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Five on the Podium in Pyhä Snowboard Cross

By Ryan Odeja
February, 6 2024
Brenna Huckaby and Dennae Russell of the U.S. stand on the podium in Pyhä
Brenna Huckaby (first) and Dennae Russell (third) of the U.S. stand on the podium in Pyhä, Finland. (U.S. Ski & Snowboard).

The U.S. Para Snowboard team dominated their first snowboard cross World Cup of the season this morning in Pyhä, Finland, where five U.S. athletes found the podium, including Brenna Huckaby taking first place in the women's LL1-LL2 category. 

Despite a gentle snowfall, the sun peeked through the clouds to shine over the snowboard cross course in central Finland, displaying the snow ghosts around the racers. The team has been spread worldwide since their last World Cup event in Landgraaf, Netherlands, in November, training, spending time with family and for many, doing professional speaking events. But after a week-long training camp in Pyhä, the athletes were prepared to take on their first World Cup event of 2024. 

Huckaby led the way for the U.S. women in the LL1/LL-2 classification, landing on the top box for the first time this season following up two podiums (one second, one third) in Landgraaf. Huckaby’s preferred event is snowboard cross over banked slalom, and with a record of two Paralympic snowboard cross medals (one gold, one bronze) and four World Championship medals (two gold, two silver) in snowboard cross, it is clear as to why. “⁠It feels really good to be back in a start gate! This season is all about how far I can push my riding, and we are off to a great start with that,” said Huckaby. “In the past two [Paralympic] games cycles, this was the year I was pregnant with each of my daughters and I’ve always been focused on recovering. Since I’m not going to be pregnant this game cycle, I’m excited to see how much progress I can make. My goal is to get as strong as possible and push my snowboarding limits [moving forward].”

Joining Huckaby on the podium was Dennae Russell, one of the U.S. team's emerging athletes who finished in third. Just off the podium was Courtney Godfrey, another emerging athlete who unfortunately took a hard fall during the qualification rounds but finished fourth. 

On the men's side, Mike Schultz (LL1) and Keith Gabel (LL2) led the team, both finishing on the podium in second place. Joe Pleban finished seventh in the LL2 class. Mike Minor rounded out the podium in third place in the men's UL classification.

“As always, I’m happy to race in the place I call home,” said Minor, speaking to his home base in Finland. “It feels really great to step onto the podium at our first boardercross event of the year.  I had a really rough start to the big finals heat.  I made a crucial mistake in the start section, which caused me to spin out 180 degrees and switch into turn one. I then needed to throw a cab 180 to regain my regular stance, which left me far in the back of the pack. There was a wreck about halfway down the course, though, which ended up putting me back into the podium mix. I have a few things I need to clean up moving forward. I’m happy with my overall performance today, especially coming off a rough injury last week.”

The team takes on another snowboard cross event tomorrow in Pyhä at 3:30 am ET.