Snowboarding took center stage at the 2018 Olympics on Friday with Norway’s Marcus Kleveland and Canada’s Max Parrot taking the top spot in their respective heats.
Parrot had the best score in the 35-man field with an 87.36 on his second run. Kleveland came out on top among the snowboarders in the first heat, finishing with an 83.71.
Carlos Garcia Knight was the big story on Friday, coming in a strong second place in the first heat with an 80.10. New Zealand, Knight’s home country, has only won one medal in its history at the Winter Olympics. Annelise Coberger took home silver in the slalom at the 1992 Games in France.
Norway is the most represented country from the first heat with three finalists, including Kleveland, Mons Roisland (76.50) and Torgeir Bergrem (75.45). Also competing for a medal on Saturday will be Canada’s Sebastien Toutant (78.01) and Sweden’s Niklas Mattsson (73.53).
The second heat featured more depth at the top with four snowboarders scoring above 80. Parrot’s fellow Canadian Mark McMorris was in second place with a terrific 86.83 mark.
Redmond Gerard from the United States (82.55), Stale Sandbech from Norway (82.13), Tyler Nicholson from Canada (79.21) and Seppe Smits from Belgium (78.36) rounded out the top six qualifiers from the second heat who will be competing in the finals on Saturday.
Complete results via NBCOlympics.com
After making it through to the finals, Knight didn’t even try to hide his excitement about what he has a chance to accomplish:
Just 20 years old, Knight emerged as a star last year at the New Zealand Winter Games when he won a bronze medal. He also became the country’s only hope in this event after Tiarn Collins was forced to withdraw after dislocating his shoulder in training on Thursday.
Belgium is in a similar position as New Zealand as far as medals. Even though the country has five Wint
er Olympics medals dating back to 1924, it doesn’t have any in the past 20 years.
Smits was able to make the final cut in the second heat with the sixth-best score, bringing Belgium one step closer toward ending that drought.
While Knight was a focal point in qualifying, he was looking up at Kleveland in the first heat. The Norway star came to Pyeongchang as a strong medal contender after winning back-to-back slopestyle gold medals at the X Games in 2017 and 2018.
This is Kleveland’s first appearance at the Olympics. He’s only 18 years old but hasn’t let the stage get too big for him in his initial run.
Among the non-qualifiers, Team USA’s medal chances took a significant hit when Chris Corning finished a disappointing ninth after winning a bronze at the 2017 Snowboarding World Championships.
Ryan Stassel, the only other American to compete in the first heat, had the lowest score with a 23.50 on his first attempt.
Gerard, who wont turn 18 until June, was able to give the U.S. a representative in the semifinals. The youngster can cap off his meteoric rise with a medal if he can repeat his efforts from qualifying.
But all eyes will be focused on Parrot, who has been building toward this moment ever since he finished fifth in the slopestyle finals at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi. He’s primarily focused on big air coming into PyeongChang, winning gold in that event at each of the past three X Games.