China’s Eileen Gu wins gold in women’s freestyle halfpipe
When some competitors barely cleared the top of the halfpipe on late-run tricks, Chinese star Eileen Gu continued to soar. Camera operators bent backward to track the teenager’s motion through the air as she climbed higher and higher just as she has for the last two weeks.
Gu reached a new level Friday, becoming the first freestyle skier to win three medals in the same Olympics. After gold and silver in slopestyle and big air, respectively, she dominated the women’s halfpipe final at Genting Snow Park. Gu recorded the two highest scores of the competition, including a gold-medal-winning 95.25 on her second attempt, before taking a teary-eyed victory lap.
Canadians Cassie Sharp and Rachael Karker took silver and bronze, respectively. American Hanna Faulhaber finished sixth in her first Olympics while Brita Sigourney and Carly Margulies finished 10th and 11th.
Fans who had been limited to just one section of the stands at Genting Snow Park braved blistering winds Friday and spilled over to fill more than two-thirds of the viewing area. Olympic volunteers arrived en masse to catch a glimpse of freeskiing’s golden girl. A group of fans held signs that read in Chinese, “Go Gu Ailing.”
After a good downhill run in the combined, Shiffrin looked good for a medal. And then, for the third time in 10 days, she failed to finish in a slalom, her specialty.
Before she dropped in for her victory run, Gu heard the public-address announcer call her a “two-time Olympic gold medalist.” In that moment, she felt as if she could finally breathe.
“These few weeks been emotionally the highest I’ve ever been and also the lowest I’ve ever been,” Gu said. “It has just been a roller coaster of emotions, partially just because it’s so hard, high-risk reward and I know exactly how much is riding on my performance.”
Since winning freeski big air last week, the Chinese American, 18-year-old, skier-student-model has captured attention on both sides of the Pacific where people struggled to untangle her from a complicated web of sports, identity and politics. Critics parsed her identity as a San Francisco-born prodigy who chose to compete for China in 2019. Some fans turned on her questioning whether her privilege growing up in the United States made her the right role model for Chinese girls.
While many try to pin her down on choosing U.S. or Chinese citizenship or being American or Chinese, Gu is happy to live as a multihyphenate.
“People, I think, are not used to other people not fitting into a box,” Gu said after Thursday’s qualifications. “I feel like I’m the kind of person that sometimes makes people uncomfortable because they don’t know what to do with me. ... I think in that sense, my biggest message has been you don’t have to fit in a box, you can do it all.”
After Friday’s final, competitors marveled at Gu’s ability, calling her “unbeatable” or “a machine.” During her dynamic Olympic campaign, Gu lived up to the phrase “keep moving” that was printed on the cuffs of her red ski jacket.
Since the opening ceremony on Feb. 4, Gu didn’t have a single day off between training and competing in three events. She joked that after the busy schedule and pork hot pot with her grandma Friday, the first thing on her post-competition agenda would be a nap.
This year is the first Olympics with freeski big air, allowing Gu to attempt the historic triple-medal hunt. Since freeski entered the Olympics in 2014, the United States’ Devin Logan was the only woman to have competed in both halfpipe and slopestyle in the same Games but did not medal in Pyeongchang.
Logan said there are advantages to training both events as the tricks cross over, but the busy schedule catches up.
Canada showed itself the better team in the latest installment of its rivalry with the U.S. by winning 3-2 to capture Olympic gold in women’s hockey.
“It’s definitely trying to find the time to rest, get a quick bite to eat, get that energy back up,” said Logan, the 2014 slopestyle silver medalist who finished 13th in halfpipe qualifying Thursday. “But she’s young.”
Polished, charismatic and media savvy, it’s easy to forget Gu has achieved star status before starting college. The Stanford-bound freshman was everywhere at the Games, appearing on gift shop bags, in video ads at train stations and on seemingly every other commercial during China’s CCTV Olympics coverage.
But where she made her biggest mark was on the podium, standing on three in less than two weeks.
Go beyond the scoreboard
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