“I’m very happy to be back. It’s good for my confidence to win here today, and I will try to get the gold for snowboard-cross because I’m very motivated.”
When day one of the 2019 World Para Snowboard Championships wrapped up Wednesday in Pyha, Finland, it was as if Maxime Montaggioni was never gone.
The Frenchman returned to the top of the men’s SB-UL banked slalom podium, retaining his title from two years ago.
But this time was different, with disappointment from PyeongChang 2018 still fresh in his mind.
“I’m very happy to be back,” Montaggioni said. “Unfortunately, I would prefer to win the Paralympics, but it’s good for my confidence to win here today, and I will try to get the gold for snowboard-cross because I’m very motivated.”
Montaggioni, who was injured during training in PyeongChang, sped down his first run in 50.05.
The goal for his second run was to beat China’s Sun Qi’s time as the fastest across all classes. But with the wind picking up and snow accumulating, the course became more challenging.
“After my first run I had a good feeling and my coach said OK now you have to beat the first time of all the categories,” he said. “I didn’t succeed but I [did well] so it was a good feeling because it was snowing so it was slower.”
Austria’s Patrick Mayrhofer, the PyeongChang 2018 silver medallist, could not catch Montaggioni and took silver. Italy’s Jacopo Luchini came in third.
Sun Qi shines
Sun Qi exchanged a hug and laughs with the very man he took the gold medal from.
The 19-year-old continued his impressive season, going from finishing outside the top-10 at the PyeongChang 2018 Paralympic Winter Games to becoming the men’s banked slalom SB-LL2 world champion. He won in style, clocking 49.95 seconds to be the only rider to go sub-50.
Waiting at the finish line to congratulate Sun was former world champion Matti Suur-Hamari. With his right arm in a sling following a surgery earlier this month, the local Finn star explained to Sun about his injury via a translator.
Sun rubbed Suur-Hamari’s right shoulder carefully.
“[Sun] is not a surprise anymore because I saw what he is capable of, like what kind of rider he is,” said Suur-Hamari, who raced against Sun at World Cups earlier this season. “So I’m stoked for him. He’s been working hard and training hard. So he really deserved that win. Sun Qi is the kind of rider that the sport needs. The sport needs to grow. So the racing gets closer and no one knows who is winning until the race is done.”
As Owen Pick rounded the last bank and tucked low to increase his speed, the British rider appeared close to beating Sun’s time. But he was 0.18 seconds short to take silver. Japan’s Shinji Tabuchi completed the podium.
Gold at last
After a pair of silver medals from the 2017 Worlds, followed by a silver and bronze from PyeongChang 2018, Lisa Bunschoten had been waiting for her golden break.
It finally came when she won the women’s SB-LL2 – her first major gold medal.
The prize was hers to lose, as the 23-year-old Dutchwoman had dominated her category the entire season.
“I woke up with a great feeling and I felt like I was ready for it,” Bunschoten said.
“I was a little bit nervous. It was more excitement because it’s such a great course and I always enjoy this place, so I was excited we had a World Champs here and excited that it finally came. It’s late in the season.
“So I was a little nervous but I always feel like I need the nerves to get focused and be in the right mental zone.”
The closest to Bunschoten’s time of 55.73 was Canada’s Sandrine Hamel, who was about four seconds off, followed by Spain’s Astrid Fina Paredes.
The men’s SB-LL1 was a thrilling battle that had the USA’s Mike Schultz steal the gold medal from compatriot Noah Elliott with a stunning final run.
Elliot sat in first place, putting pressure on the rest of the field to beat 51.21.
Schultz surprised himself when 50.63 showed up, giving a small celebration as he waited anxiously for the reigning Paralympic champion to come down the course.
Elliott could not match Schultz’s speed, giving Schultz his first world title.
“I was focused on this event, the World Champs, since I came up short almost a year ago,” said Schultz, silver medallist in PyeongChang.
“My first run was so-so. I was worried a bit about the conditions with snow increasing and I wasn’t sure if I’d get a fast time. But I just hit my marks and able to lay down a fast run.
“I’m so pumped. The first mission of this trip is accomplished.”
The Netherlands’ reigning world champion Chris Vos claimed bronze.
Best of the rest
France’s Cecile Hernandez was the undisputed winner of the women’s SB-LL1 category. It was a bittersweet feeling as her toughest competitor Brenna Huckaby of the USA was not competing due to injury.
“It’s a bit weird sensation because Brenna is not here,” Hernandez said. “But I’m happy because I improved my time in the second run.”
China swept the women’s SB-UL category with Pang Qiaorong taking gold and Lu Jiangli the silver.
Complete results from Pyha 2019 are available at World Para Snowboard’s website.
Competition continues Saturday with snowboard-cross.