All of the buzz Thursday at the U.S. Snowboarding Grand Prix was about superstar Shaun White. By qualifying for the snowboard slopestyle finals, White got the result he needed to be eligible for the Olympics in slopestyle, which will make its Olympic debut in Sochi, Russia.
Not gaining much attention was Anchorage's Ryan Stassel, who also qualified for the finals -- and did so with the third-best score of the day, one that eclipsed White's.
Stassel, 20, placed second in his heat Thursday with 90.33 points. He will be among 16 men competing in Sunday's final at Colorado's Copper Mountain.
The only riders to score higher than Stassel were Sage Kotsenburg of the United States, whose 94.0 won the second heat, and Torstein Horgmo of Norway, whose 93.0 won the first heat.
Stassel and Charles Guldemond of the United States both posted scores of 90.33 points; Guldemond's came in the second heat and placed him ahead of White, who was third in that heat with 85.66 points.
For White, making the finals was critical because snowboarders need a top-30 result to become eligible to compete in slopestyle at Sochi.
Becoming eligible for the Olympics isn't the same as making the Olympic team, however.
The United States can only send three men to Sochi in slopestyle, and the competition for those spots is tough, especially with White joining the mix this season. A perennial star at the Winter Olympics and Winter X Games, White owns two Olympic golds in halfpipe and hopes to expand his repertoire now that slopestyle is on the menu.
Stassel, who last spring earned a spot on the U.S. Ski Team, has been competing in slopestyle for several years. He placed seventh at last season's world championships.
The Grand Prix is one of five Olympic qualifiers for U.S. slopestylers, so Sunday's finals are huge. The No. 1 criteria for making the U.S. team is a top-four finish at a qualifying event.
The Grand Prix is the second of five qualifiers; the first was last week's Dew Tour in Breckenridge, Colo., where Stassel failed to qualify for the finals. White qualified but had to withdraw after injuring his ankle in the halfpipe finals.
Reach Beth Bragg at email@example.com or 257-4335.
By BETH BRAGG