Filled with adrenaline, all five winners on Saturday tried to understand what just happened when they each crossed the finish line on a historic day of the 2019 World Para Snowboard Championships in Pyha, Finland.
Four-way races in snowboard-cross were witnessed at a major level for the first time and created a nail-biting atmosphere.
USA DOUBLE STOKED
With a mix of wipeouts and takeovers throughout day two, border-cross is known for its unpredictable nature.
That is what the USA’s Keith Gabel thrives on.
The PyeongChang 2018 Paralympic silver medallist won the men’s SB-LL2 category in epic fashion.
With an emphatic yell, the 34-year-old crossed the line just ahead of youngsters Ben Tudhope from Australia and compatriot Zach Miller, respectively.
“This is my style of racing,” Gabel said. “You got to be an animal to be out in front and hold on to it. You got to be an animal to make passes.”
“It means the world to me,” he continued. “I’ve been to four or five World Champs and never placed higher than fourth, and border-cross is what I consider my strong suit.
“Last season I didn’t podium once in any World Cup. I was able to get a silver in PyeongChang, and to come out here as world champion, words cannot express how pumped I am right now.”
As the sun went down and conditions became icy, riders needed to adapt to the changing course conditions. Gabel knew that entering the big final, and it paid off with his first major career title.
“I’m shaking still,” he said. “I was just holding on for dear life. I kept to my lines that I was able to get than in some of the earlier heats.”
Noah Elliott made it double gold for the USA after holding off reigning SB-LL1 world champion Chris Vos in a head-to-head fight.
The Dutchman tried to catch Elliott in the final roller. But the 21-year-old already had a strong lead to secure his first world title, to join his silver from banked slalom on Wednesday.
“It all feels surreal because it has all happened so fast,” Elliott reflected. “Every time I have time to take a breath and think back at what’s happened and what I’ve accomplished, it’s truly inspiring and I’m excited to share it with other people.”
Fellow US rider Mike Schultz finished ahead of Austria’s Reinhold Schett for the bronze.
WOMAN OF THE WEEK
The Netherlands’ Lisa Bunschoten did not know how close — or far Canada’s Sandrine Hamel was until she crossed the finish line, where family and friends wildly greeted her on a successful week.
The Dutchwoman became a double world champion at Pyha 2019, and did so in the first four-by-four race ever in women’s Para snowboard.
Her teammate Anne Garttener joined on the podium with bronze.
“I knew after the second turn Sandrine was pretty close on the corner jump and I don’t know what I did there but it didn’t feel fast,” Bunschoten said. “So I said it’s all or nothing now.”
“I was like OK keep focus through the finish line (at the last rollers) because sometimes someone can cross you at the back,” she said. “Luckily it didn’t happen, and I was like yes! Double world champion now!”
Monika Kotzian also shouted “Yes!” on the realisation that she won the women’s SB-UL. The Polish rider held off China’s Pang Qiaorong in their head-to-head race.
“It’s a very emotional time for me,” Kotzian said. “I think no one expected me because the girls from China are really good riders. They are amazing, they are really young and they beat me in banked slalom. … Nobody expected, and even me also, that I would win today.”
The closest race was in the men’s SB-UL, with all four men charging down the final stretch.
France’s Maxime Montaggioni captialised on his opponents’ mistakes, which was the difference maker and awarded him his second world title in Pyha.
“Maybe today was the most important for me because I was not world champion so I wanted to get this in SBX,” said Montaggioni, who took silver back in 2017. “I’ve come from far away, and I’ve worked a lot, and I can say that work has paid off. So I’m really happy for all the staff and people who helped me.”
Australia completed the podium with Simon Patmore and Sean Pollard going two, three respectively.
Complete results from Pyha 2019 are available on World Para Snowboard’s website https://www.paralympic.org/pyha-2019 Action wraps up with the team event on Sunday.