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Stassel claims bronze; waits to hear if he's an Olympian

Beth Bragg

Anchorage snowboarder Ryan Stassel made his case Saturday. Now all he can do is wait and see if coaches want to take his act to the Winter Olympics.

Stassel flipped and twisted his way to a bronze medal in the final competition for U.S. riders hoping to make it to Sochi in slopestyle snowboarding, an event that will make its Olympic debut next month.

The team will be announced Sunday. Three men are already on it -- Shaun White, Chas Guldemond and Sage Kotsenburg, who clinched his spot by winning Saturday's event in Mammoth Mountain, Calif.

A fourth spot is not guaranteed. Coaches can decide to take a fourth rider or not, and they can use discretion in doing so, rather than basing the choice on the objective criteria used to name the first three team members.

"Keeping fingers crossed," said Steve Stassel, Ryan's dad.

A discretionary pick allows coaches to choose who they believe is the most deserving athlete, regardless of rankings or other objective criteria. It allows them to take a top athlete who was sick or injured during the qualifying period, to choose a rising star over a veteran (or vice-versa), to pick a proven performer even if he had a bad week at qualifying.

Stassel, 21, is the highest-ranked rider who isn't already on the team. In fact, he ranks third on the points list ahead of fourth-place White, a snowboarding superstar who skipped Saturday's competition to prepare for Sunday's final halfpipe qualifying event.

Stassel has been on the podium in two of the last three U.S. Grand Prix qualifying competitions and was fourth in the other.

Those performances shot him up the rankings and put him in position to punch a ticket to the Olympics, four years ahead of his plan at the end of last season, when the 2018 Olympics seemed a more achievable goal.

"I say, why not make it be 2014? Definitely," Stassel told the Daily News after a Thursday doubleheader at Mammoth in which he won the morning competition and placed fourth in the afternoon one.

For the second time in three events, Stassel topped the 90-point barrier. A perfect score is 100, and Stassel tallied 90.8 Saturday to finish third behind Kotsenburg (95.4) and Kyle Mack (92.4). Brett Moody, another Alaska, placed 10th with 66.8 points.

Stassel made a clean run with three big jumps, duplicating the tricks that earned him victory on Thursday, when he racked up 95 points.

A Service High graduate, Stassel was the top American rider at last year's world championships, placing seventh. He broke his ankle soon after that but came back as strong as ever after a summer of rehab and commercial fishing on the Kenai Peninsula.

If he makes the team, he would be Alaska's third Olympic snowboarder, joining Rosey Fletcher (1998, 2002, 2006 Olympics, winning bronze in 2006) and Callan Chythlook-Sifsof (2010 Olympics). Chythlook-Sifsof will learn next week if she'll make the Olympic snowboardcross team.

Reach Beth Bragg at bbragg@adn.com or 257-4335.

 


By BETH BRAGG
bbragg@adn.com