Chris Corning reacts at the Visa Big Air on Dec. 20, 2019 in Atlanta.
ATLANTA – Chris Corning decided to swing for the fences Friday night.
Competing in the Visa Big Air inside the SunTrust Park baseball stadium, the snowboarder hit his sport’s equivalent of a grand slam home run with a trick that is so frightening he doesn’t practice it.
Corning landed his signature quad cork 1800 for the first time in the United States and the first time on a scaffold big air jump.
"I just do it when I have to do it,” he said. “I’m very happy to be alive after that. It’s always scary trying it.”
In second place after two rounds, Corning knew he had to do it. He had landed the jump last week in Beijing – becoming the first to do so in a “city” competition at the 2022 Olympic venue - and twice in New Zealand in the past two years.
Corning zoomed down the 150-foot high, 459-foot long ramp and performed the four flips and five rotations in the air with no problems. However, he landed in a hole that had developed from all the wear and tear, “and I just held it and it worked out,” Corning said.
It sure did.
“That was insane!” teammate Kyle Mack, the reigning Olympic silver medalist in big air, proclaimed after Corning’s jump. “That’s the one he’s been winning with lately and killing it with. At least the U.S. is taking home the ‘W’ today, baby!”
Not just yet, however. Even though Corning scored 95.25 points to finish with a total of 177.25 points, it was not a walk-off home run. He still had to wait for Nicolas Laframboise of Canada, who was in the lead after the first two rounds.
Laframboise fell on his landing, and finished second with 166.75 points, followed by Ryoma Kimata of Japan with 163.00.
Corning opened with a frontside triple 1440 and then a backside triple 1440, before pulling out all the stops with his quad.
Because each scaffold is different due to the space available inside the stadiums, Corning had to make sure the ramp and kicker would allow him enough hang time. He and his girlfriend looked at film of his successful jumps and timed them, so they determined he got the job done in 2.4 seconds.
“I spent nights just thinking about the seconds that I had and I knew I had 2½ (seconds) so I knew I could do it,” said Corning, who just missed the podium at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 while failing to land the very same jump.
He said the difficulty in going from a triple to a quad depends on the jump.
“This jump was a lot harder, because I had to do the trick and throw it with everything I have,” he said. “That comes down to how much strength and power I can get out of a jump.”
It also depended on the conditions. The temperature was in the mid 40s in the southernmost U.S. big air venue.
“The jump was really soft throughout most of practice,” Corning said, “so I was not sure if I was even going to be able to try it. It seemed to harden up, so I gave it a shot.
“I think in layman’s terms, you have to throw it that much harder. You learn from a single to a double, or a double to a triple. You have to throw it and learn where you are in the air.”
Sean FitzSimons of Team USA placed fifth after failing to land a back triple 16 he’d never tried before in practice or competition.
“It was a Hail Mary and I was like, ‘I hope I stomp,’” he said. “I was pretty close, so I was stoked on that.”
Mack, wearing an Atlanta Braves jersey with his name on the back, came in seventh. He led after the first round, but couldn’t land his last two jumps.
“It’s so cool to be able to bring this to a baseball stadium, to have as many people show up,” Mack said of the crowd of 11,373 spectators, most along the first- and third-base lines with the riders landing near home base. “It was breathtaking. This is the biggest crowd we’ve ever competed in.”
Red Gerard, the 2018 Olympic slopestyle champion from Team USA, missed qualifying for the final by 1.5 points.
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Reira Iwabuchi of Japan won the women’s competition, with Julia Marino, who won the big air stadium competition in 2016 in Fenway Park, coming in fourth as the top rider for Team USA.
Jamie Anderson, the two-time Olympic gold medalist in slopestyle and 2018 silver medalist in big air, qualified for the final, but had a hard landing during preliminaries and opted not to continue.
The scores of two of the three jumps are counted and the tricks must be spun in different directions. Judging is based on difficulty, execution, amplitude and landing.
While Corning had three runs, he went to the podium four times – one for each flip. The first time was with his fellow medalists, who received gold, silver and bronze bats, which sure beat stuffed animals or flowers.
Then he accepted his seventh crystal globe for winning the overall big air world cup this season – Corning won two events and made all four podiums. Then Corning was named national champion and, finally, he won an extra $2,500 for having the best trick of the night by a male rider.
Corning, 20, of Arvada, Colorado, is a world championships gold and bronze medalist in slopestyle and has also established himself as the man to beat this quadrennium in big air. His two-podium 2017 worlds included silver in big air.
He opened the 2019-20 season in August with a win at a world cup in Cardrona, New Zealand and was third in Modena, Italy, in early November.
“I definitely would put myself up there as one of the top guys to beat,” he said, “but it totally comes down to judging in the contest that day.
“In Beijing last week, there was some tough stuff with judging. I even landed my quad better there and didn’t even move up a spot when I was there.”
So will the quad be the standard for all riders in 2022?
“I don’t know - for me, I hope not,” Corning said.
He said other riders do it, but none have tried it as consistently as he has in competition.
“It still hasn’t been done in slopestyle yet,” he said, “so we’ll see how that goes. Going into Beijing, it’s just going to depend how the jump is, how the weather is, and how everyone’s feeling going into the contest.”
His teammate Gerard said the sport will continue to progress, whether it’s changing courses or better tricks.
“I think for a while people didn’t really think double corks were going to happen, and now we’re on to triple corks and quad corks,” Gerard said. “I don’t really know if it can go too much further, but people are doing crazy stuff every day in snowboarding.”