Clark, Aono win NZ World Cup

The U.S. riders start out the FIS tour strong. Kelly Clark, Hannah Teter and Scotty Lago make themselves Olympic eligible, while Ryo Aono and Shuhei Sato of Japan take the top two spots for the men.

The first points of the Olympic qualifying series were dished out in the Snowboard FIS World Cup at New Zealand's Cardrona Alpine Resort Saturday.

The contest drew a huge field of 72 male and 31 female local and international halfpipe riders -- the top 65 men and 28 women all received FIS points for the nations they represent. At the end of the qualification period, FIS will use these points to allocate how many riders from each country will be able to attend the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

"It's a great way to start the season. We're going to need four people from the United States in the top points for the FIS next year, so getting a win takes some pressure off for the rest of the field," said Kelly Clark, who finished first. "I think Hannah [Teter] getting a top finish today as well will help us out ... I'm glad to be a part of that, and glad to be representing my country."

"It's kind of nice to start the season out strong, going to finals, getting in the top 25; at least that's one thing you don't have to worry about in the future," says Vancouver Olympic bronze medalist Scotty Lago, who finished sixth in the competition.

To be eleigible to compete in the Olympics, a rider has to have a top-30 finish in at least one World Cup.

Taylor Attwood

Ryo Aono: the next Kazu?

The Japanese team definitely started out strong, claiming both top two positions in the men's finals through Ryo Aono and Shuhei Sato. Chinese up and comer Yiwei Zhang closed out the podium in third place.

Kelly Clark continued her stellar start to the season (she already placed first at the Burton High Fives last week) with another top of the podium finish in the women's finals, with France's Sophie Rodriguez and Queralt Castellet of Spain joining her in the top three.

"I had a little bit of trouble with my first run, but I just basically played it safe and did a basic second run. I landed on my feet and ended up coming away with the win," Clark says.

Clark and Aono now must spend the season defending their yellow bibs as tour leaders, ahead of a qualification period which runs until January 2014.

"I've had a lot of fun progressing my riding over the past few years and I'm excited to push it even more ... I feel strong, I feel confident, I feel like I'm riding better than ever, and I'm really looking forward to this season," says Clark.

"I'm feeling good. My mind's in the right spot, I'm focused, and I'm pretty motivated. It just is what it is. I'm ready," adds Lago.

But there's still a long way to go to Sochi, and experienced riders like Hannah Teter know that it pays to play it one season at a time.

"You don't even think about [the Olympics] yet," says Teter. "It's so far away so it's in the back of my mind for sure. Right now it's about learning new tricks, and trying to get ready for this season in preparation for next season."

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