Sean Fitzsimons performs a trick during the Men's Snowboard Slopestyle Qualification at the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 on Feb. 6, 2022 in Zhangjiakou, China.
Sean FitzSimons recorded his first world cup win just three weeks before the Olympic Winter Games opened in Beijing. The slopestyle snowboarder from Hood River, Oregon, showed it was no fluke when he finished third in the men’s qualifying round Sunday to lead three U.S. men into Monday’s final.
FitzSimons scored 78.76 points in qualifying, putting him behind only teenage sensation Su Yiming of China (86.80) and two-time Olympic bronze medalist Mark McMorris of Canada (83.30).
Red Gerard, the defending Olympic gold medalist from Silverthorne, Colorado, moved on with a fifth-place score of 78.20, as did 11th-place Chris Corning, who scored 69.30.
“The right things are coming together at the right time, especially this being an Olympic year when things are starting to go my way,” FitzSimons said. “Nothing’s really changed, though. I’ve kept snowboarding and kept working hard at it.”
Not advancing, however, was 19-year-old Dusty Henricksen. The 2020 Youth Olympic Games gold medalist and 2021 X Games champ — the first U.S. man to win the latter in 12 years — came into Beijing with high expectations but was unable to put down a clean run in qualifying and finished 17th. Only the top 12 advanced.
Four years after 17-year-old Gerard surprised in PyeongChang with his gold-medal performance, it might be the 21-year-old FitzSimons as the upstart medal contender this time. Prior to his win last month in Laax, Switzerland, he had never reached a world cup podium in either slopestyle or big air. He has never competed at a senior world championships, and he was 12th in slopestyle at his lone junior worlds in 2017.
“I just tried to get up there, land a run and see where it would get me and try not to think about the pressure of the Olympics,” he said. “I was having a hard time eating this morning — you know, nerves, butterflies. I put those aside and wasn’t nervous dropping in today. I was like, I’m just going to board. And that’s what I did.”
Under bright blue skies at Genting Snow Park in Zhangjiakou, a mountainous area northwest of Beijing, FitzSimons opened with a strong run that included a frontside triple cork 1440. That proved to be his higher of two scores, and good enough to send him on to the final in his first Olympic Winter Games.
“I feel like I’m riding the best I ever have,” he said. “That win in Switzerland was really good for momentum and confidence.”
Don’t rule out Gerard, though. Four years ago in PyeongChang he became the youngest American man to win a gold medal in 90 years. Now 21, he recorded his best score in the opening run as well, moving strong off the rails and landing frontside double cork 1080 off one of the jumps.
Gerard said he was satisfied with his performance in qualifying and feels comfortable on the course. As was his approach in 2018, he’s thinking process over result going into the final.
“For me my only job and duty is just to land a run. That’s my goal,” he said. “We’ll have three tries tomorrow, so I’m really hoping I can get one down.”
Corning, 22, advanced to the finals for the second Olympics in a row, after finishing ninth in PyeongChang. The native of Arvada, Colorado, also finished fourth in big air four years ago. All of the slopestyle snowboarders will also compete in the big air event in Beijing, with that set for Feb. 14-15.
The men’s slopestyle qualifying event followed the women’s final, in which Team USA’s Julia Marino won the silver medal. Since slopestyle snowboarding made its Olympic debut in 2014, U.S. athletes have claimed five medals, including all four golds leading into Beijing.