Otsuka produces two monster runs to claim victory

Crowds gathered around the 85ft big air jump at Cardrona yesterday afternoon to witness dozens of teenage freeskiers and snowboarders defy gravity in the junior world championship big air finals.

High winds had delayed the start of the finals from Saturday morning until yesterday afternoon, but the wait was worth it as some up-and-coming superstars threw down some jaw-dropping performances.

In the men’s events, competitors’ combined top two scores from three runs counted for final places. There was also a requirement  to spin tricks in different directions.

Unfazed by being the pundits’ favourite was top snowboard qualifier Takeru Otsuka, of Japan, who had two monster runs for a winning  combined score of 188.20 out of 200.

American Luke Winkelmann and Canadian rider William Buffey came second and third respectively.

In the men’s ski, the podium had an American flavour, as gold and silver went to Mac Forehand and Ryan Stevenson, both of the United States. Third place was Spain’s Thibault Magnin.

Forehand was the standout throughout the final, with huge amplitude, progressive tricks and clean landings.

"I’m feeling amazing. I’m so happy to win. On the second run I did a trick I’ve only landed once before so I was happy to land that."

In the women’s ski, podium places were decided by each athlete’s top-scoring run of three.

Heavy favourite Kelly Sildaru, of Estonia, seemed to have it in the bag after her first run score of 84.80 was unchallenged in the first two rounds.

But a huge jump by Russia’s Anastasia Tatalina on her final run moved her into first place with a 90.40.

Sildaru had a chance to respond but could not get her landing right, handing the gold to the Russian.

"I’m so excited," Tatalina said.

"It’s my first time I’ve won in a big competition."

Despite not claiming top spot, Sildaru was pleased with her performance.

"It’s my first competition for a year after my injury, so I’m happy."

Lana Prusakova, also of Russia, rounded off the podium.

Elsewhere at Cardrona, the men’s and women’s ski cross qualification got under way, featuring Wanaka siblings Ben and Kate Richards.

Both are through to today’s final.

Kate finished eighth out of eight skiers in qualification, while Ben was 11th of 18 skiers.

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