Winter Olympics 2014: Great Britain off to a great start as Jamie Nicholls books place in snowboard slopestyle final
Fellow Briton Billy Morgan agonisingly missed out on qualifying but will have a second chance to progress in Saturday's semi-final
Thursday 06 February 2014
Jamie Nicholls gave Great Britain a tremendous start to the Winter Olympics after surprisingly booking his place in the finals of the debuting snowboard slopestyle event, although compatriot Billy Morgan agonisingly missed out.
Of the two, Morgan was thought to be the greater medal prospect, but Nicholls rose to the occasion at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park in his first Olympics, scoring 86.75 on his second run to finish fourth and move automatically into Saturday's showpiece.
Morgan, who became the first person to compete at these Games after he was the first rider in the opening qualifying heat, can feel a little hard done by following a score of 85.50, but he will get another chance to impress in Saturday's semi-finals.
Norway's Staale Sandbech topped the heat with an impressive 94.50, while Finland's Peetu Piiroinen and Sebastien Toutant also made it through.
Nicholls, who only scored 62.25 in his first run, joined them with a more daring second routine and he was thrilled.
"It's amazing, I can't explain it. I literally came here and all I wanted to do was land my run," he said.
"Landing a run and getting to the finals is a dream come true."
The competitors were boosted by the news revered snowboarder Shaun White had pulled out of the event less than 24 hours before Thursday's qualifiers, with the American instead turning his attention to winning a third Olympic halfpipe title.
Nicholls fully capitalised on his friend's absence and incorporated a new "Cab" move - a switch-frontside spin - in a bid to lift his score.
"I've literally never landed that before, it's a new trick for me," he said.
"I've done it in training once last year and I kind of sketched out on it, so to do it in the contest run and put it down like that is just amazing.
"To be able to go up there and do a run that I've never done in my life, it just shows the standard is pretty high."
The 20-year-old has no intention of playing it safe in the final, either.
"Now I'm in the finals I've just got to go all out, 100 per cent, so I'm just going to go for it and see what happens," he added.
"I still feel I can step up my run too, even more than what I did today.
"I'm looking forward to finals on Saturday. I'm just happy that I made it, I'm not bothered any more."
Morgan can count himself unlucky to finish sixth after landing a 'backside triple' on his final jump - one of the hardest tricks to complete in snowboard slopestyle.
The 24-year-old from Southampton was pleased with his second run but admitted being the first man out of the gate could have proved his undoing.
"I messed my first run up, but I was stoked to go down on my second run," he said.
"It is a bit of a disadvantage as I don't get to see what everyone has done. I couldn't really have done any better - maybe I could have cleaned it up a bit. But hopefully I'll get to the final."
Nevertheless, Morgan was thrilled to realise he was the first person to compete in Sochi and in the event's debut after Norwegian rider Torstein Horgmo, who was ruled out after breaking his collarbone on the controversial course earlier this week, pointed it out to him.
"It was good. I didn't think about it until I was at the top and about to go and Torstein said you're the first one to do this in the Olympics ever. I'm stoked."
The standard in heat two was even higher, with reigning Winter X Games snowboard slopestyle gold medallist Maxence Parrot topping the standings following a score of 97.50.
The 19-year-old Canadian must be considered red-hot favourite to top the podium in Saturday's final, where he was joined by Roope Tonteri, Sven Thorgren and Gjermund Braaten, all of whom posted scores over 90.
Ireland's Seamus O'Connor finished 13th after failing to land his final jump on both runs.
Nevertheless, the American-born 16-year-old, whose grandparents are Irish, will get another chance in Saturday's semi-final and is very grateful to be representing his adopted nation.
"My dad's side of the family are from Ireland, I feel very Irish and am very lucky to be here" he said.
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