The U.S. fielded a big team in Cardrona, New Zealand for the Winter Games NZ Freestyle Halfpipe and 20-year-old Birk Irving came through with a win and two impressive runs for his second career World Cup medal.
Irving, the 2016 Youth Olympic Games champion, made it clear he was out to win with a brilliant first run, scoring 95.00. Through the first two runs, no one got closer than a first-round 92.40 from Brendan Mackay of Canada.
In the final round, American Aaron Blunck moved up to second at 92.80 and a 1-2 U.S. sweep was a possibility, But Canada’s Noah Bowman claimed the silver medal with his third-round score of 93.40. Irving, hardly standing pat, improved to 95.60 for his final, winning score.
“I’m just really excited to land that run, those are tricks I’ve wanted to do for such a long time,” said Irving, “It’s insane to put that run down today. I’m beyond words. The pipe was perfect, everything just lined up and ended up working in my favor, and I couldn’t be happier.”
It’s the second career World Cup medal for Irving, who won the Mammoth Mountain Halfpipe in March 2019.
China’s veteran Kexin Zhang claimed the women’s title, her third career World Cup gold, with her second-round jump of 91.00. She overtook newly-affiliated teammate Eileen Gu, 16 – formerly a U.S. jumper – who had the first-round lead at 88.80.
Gu improved in the second round to 89.00, but that’s as much as she could muster and she finished second. After competing for the U.S. as a 15-year-old in 2018-19, she announced in June on Instagram:
“I have decided to compete for China in the upcoming 2022 Winter Olympics. This was an incredibly tough decision for me to make … The opportunity to help inspire millions of young people where my mom was born, during the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic Games is a once-in-a-lifetime to help to promote the sport I love.”
Gu was born in San Francisco to an American father and Chinese mother. She won two World Cup medals in Slopestyle in January of this year. By the time of the 2022 Winter Games, she will be 18; it will be fascinating to see what her decision at age 15 means after the 2022 Games are over. Summaries:
FIS Freestyle World Cup
Cardrona (NZL) ~ 6-7 September 2019
(Full results here)
Men/Halfpipe: 1. Birk Irving (USA), 95.60; 2. Noah Bowman (CAN), 93.40; 3. Aaron Blunck (USA), 92.80; 4. Brendan Mackay (CAN), 92.40; 5. Taylor Seaton (USA), 88.80. Also in the top 10: 7. Jaxin Hoerter (USA), 83.60; 8. Lyman Currier (USA), 77.00.
Women/Halfpipe: 1. Kexin Zhang (CHN), 91.00; 2. Eileen Gu (CHN), 89.00; 3. Valeriya Demidova (RUS), 87.80; 4. Fanghui Li (CHN), 81.60; 5. Sabrina Cakmakli (GER), 76.60. Also in the top 10: 8. Svea Irving (USA), 55.40.