Eileen Gu captured Olympic gold in the women's ski halfpipe final on a breezy and cold Friday morning to become the first action-sports athlete to pick up three medals at the same Winter Games.
With hands on her hips, Gu visualized her first two runs at the top of the Secret Garden halfpipe course. Then, she flawlessly executed her plan. She warmed up with a 93.25 on her first pass before going even higher and bigger to post a 95.25 on her second. But this was the sort of run Gu visualized all along — a nice relaxed stroll through the halfpipe as the last competitor and with the win sealed. The standout American-born freestyle skier who represents China adds to her gold from big air and silver from slopestyle.
"She's really pushing the sport to a new level," said British freestyler Zoe Atkin, who finished ninth. "It's really great to see and it's so inspiring. It makes me want to be a better skier myself. I think she's amazing for the sport." Defending Olympic champion Cassie Sharpe of Canada was second with a score of 90.75. She threw a pair of impressive 1080s and said after the result: "I'll take it." She's just a little over a year removed from suffering a torn ligament in her knee.
"It feels surreal at this point," Sharpe said. "I can't even put it into words. I've been through hell and back the last year, so I'm just so grateful that all the pieces that I've worked so hard on came together today." Sharpe's teammate, Rachael Karker, took bronze. Teenager Hanna Faulhaber was the top American finisher in sixth place.
The temperature hovered around 3 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 16 degrees Celsius) with an 11 mph (18 kph) wind and plenty of gusts. Like on Gu's second run when the wind struck right when she was sailing through the air, a plume of snow blowing behind her. It didn't seem to bother her. Nothing has. There's been plenty of pressure and lots of attention on Gu and her Olympic quest. She just went about her business of winning medals as she competed for her mother's home country.
The 18-year-old from San Francisco was cheered on by a flag-waving crowd in the stands. Later, she donned a stocking cap featuring a panda as throngs of people tried to snap her picture. "It's super-nice to compete in front of your home crowd," said Estonia's Kelly Sildaru, who finished fourth. "I would be super-stoked." Like Gu, Sildaru competed in three freestyle skiing events.
Sildaru earned a bronze in slopestyle. "I'm just happy now that I can go back home and rest a little bit," Sildaru said. Zhang Kexin of China had a scary crash on her final run. Zhang stayed down in the halfpipe for a moment before getting up and skiing down.