U.S. Olympic team roster remains undecided

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The Sochi dreams of snowboarders like Norway's Kjersti Buaas, along with U.S. hopefuls, were affected by the decision to cancel the third-of-five Olympic snowboard qualifying events in Breckenridge, Colo., on Saturday.

Slopestyle and halfpipe snowboard events at the U.S. Grand Prix in Breckenridge, Colo., the third contest in a five-stop series that will determine the rosters of the 2014 U.S. Olympic freeski and snowboard teams, were cancelled Saturday, following heavy snow and wind in the area. In a controversial decision, event organizers decided to scrap the event altogether, rather than let results from qualifying rounds count as final, as the freeski event organizers had when ski slopestyle finals were canceled Friday due to weather. 

"It sucks that people who didn't make the cut for finals here will now get a free pass," said men's halfpipe competitor Louie Vito, who finished second in qualifiers behind Greg Bretz and ahead of Shaun White. "I jacked my back in practice for qualifiers and still rode, knowing how high the stakes were. So it kind of sucks when you push yourself out there just for it to mean nothing." 

Stakes are high for snowboarders trying to qualify to go to Sochi. Though Greg Bretz and rookies Ben Ferguson and Taylor Gold are sitting in a good position to make the men's halfpipe team, and Jamie Anderson, Chas Guldemond, Shaun White and Sage Kotsenburg are leading in the qualification rankings on the slopestyle side, only Kelly Clark has mathematically locked down a spot on the halfpipe team so far.

"While it’s disappointing to have had to cancel or postpone these events, it’s imperative that we have a safe and fair competition for the athletes" explained USSA Freeskiing and Snowboarding director Jeremy Forster. "The decisions made by the separate FIS juries were made fairly and by the rules of the respective sports."

U.S. Grand Prix event director Bill Van Guilder said the decision to cancel this week's results altogether was made by a jury of event organizers, based on FIS (International Ski Federation) Snowboarding rules. "[The decision] won't appease all parties involved," said Van Guilder.

The top eight women's snowboard slopestyle qualifiers were unanimous in protesting the jury's decision, and have filed an appeal through official channels to let the results from qualification stand as final. FIS officials said they will process and respond to the appeal within 72 hours.

"For women's slopestyle there was great weather for qualifiers and it was a great event, and we unanimously agreed that we want our results from qualifiers to stand," said top qualifier Jamie Anderson. "I think it was important to see the riders coming together today and standing together in the face of something we didn't agree with. I'm feeling cautiously optimistic that we were heard and that this decision will be reversed."

The decision was particularly crushing for Norwegian slopestyle rider Kjersti Buaas, who, according to the rules set by the Norwegian snowboarding federation, still needs a top-10 finish in an FIS contest from this season to meet the minimum requirements to qualify for the Olympic team.

"I was injured in the early season," Buaas said. "All I needed to was to qualify for finals here, which I did, but if FIS is negating the results it could be a deal-breaker for me for Sochi. I got all stoked after I made the cut, and now it's all being taken away."

U.S. Freeskiing spokeswoman Haley Caruso explained that the decision to let qualifying results stand for ski slopestyle competitors, and not for snowboard competitors comes down to the different FIS rules set for snowboarding and freeskiing.

"In the FIS Freeskiing rule book, they have a rule that allows results from qualifiers to be used if finals don't happen," Caruso explained. "The FIS Snowboarding rule is that snowboard qualifiers don't count in place of finals: If no final run was taken there is no final result."

Fabia Grüebler, global tour director for the TTR World Snowboard Tour, a co-sanctioning body for the Grand Prix snowboarding events, said that she trusts the process, despite the frustrations.

"The problem was … that there was a gray area all around," Grüebler said. "FIS doesn't have clear rules for how to handle the situation, and the World Snowboard Tour doesn't have a strict rulebook. We have recommendations ... But I'm standing fully behind how the U.S. Grand Prix organizers handled the situation: They've provided channels for everybody to voice their opinions and have also provided an appeal process."

The final rosters of the U.S. Olympic halfpipe and slopestyle teams will now come down to the two remaining selection events, which will be held next week at Mammoth Mountain, Calif. The U.S. Olympic team announcement will be made following the last final on January 19.

Refer to the snowboard qualification ranking list to see how the U.S. teams are stacking up right now.

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