2022 Winter Olympics Live Updates: Results and Latest News
ZHANGJIAKOU, China — Eleven freeski finalists took turns trying to navigate the slopestyle course, which proved a formidable opponent at these Winter Games.
The string of rails and obstacles followed by three sets of big jumps, all constructed in the snow to resemble the Great Wall, both dazzled and baffled some of the best skiers and snowboarders.
But on another frosty and clear day at Genting Snow Park, Switzerland’s Mathilde Gremaud outshone everyone else, including Eileen Gu, who was hoping to give China another gold medal.
Gremaud scored 86.56 in her second of three runs, edging Gu, who came in second, and Kelly Sildaru of Estonia, who won bronze.
Gu has one more event to try to win a second gold medal. Qualifying for his final event, the halfpipe, is scheduled for Thursday. Gu is a favorite to win.
The three favorites of the event – Sildaru, Tess Ledeux of France and Gu – took the lead on the first lap, in that order. But Gremaud opened the second of three sets with a score of 86.56, raising the bar for the favorites.
By the time Gu took her second race, she had dropped out of the medal chase. And when she fell behind the third rail, all her hopes for a medal were left on her last run. She scored an 86.23, propelling her to second place.
There were expected to be 12 slopestyle finalists but Marin Hamill of the United States did not compete after injuring his leg in his second qualifying run the day before. She was removed from the course in an ambulance and the team said she would go home for an assessment.
This placed American hopes on Hamill’s teammate Maggie Voisin. A veteran of the world freeski circuit, but at just 23 years old, Voisin was making his third Olympic appearance. In 2014, at age 15, she was at the Sochi Games but broke her leg in training before the competition. At the 2018 Games, she finished fourth. She arrived in China eager for a medal but finished fifth.
The bulk of the competition focused on Gu, the 18-year-old who was born and raised in California by a Chinese mother with deep roots in Beijing. She spent a few years with the US national team before announcing in 2019 that she would compete for China, in part to help grow the country’s winter sports market.
Gu is an emerging star and a ubiquitous presence on Chinese television during these Olympics. Known as Gu Ailing, her face seems to be everywhere, including in the sky (a recent light show created her portrait using more than 500 drones) and in advertisements for her many Chinese sponsors. Over the past year, she has also modeled for Tiffany & Company, Louis Vuitton, and other high-end retailers.
Her mother, Yan Gu, has a degree — most Americans couldn’t bring family and friends to China due to pandemic-era restrictions — and attended the events, cheering on her daughter.
After landing a strong and under-pressure slopestyle qualifying run on Monday, Gu stood confidently at the bottom of the course, waiting for a score she knew would take her to the final. She took a shao bing, a type of Chinese flatbread, from her pocket and bit into it. Within minutes, she and shao bing became a popular hashtag on Chinese social media.
In the last month or so, and mostly in the last week since winning the big air, Gu’s Instagram following – mostly in the West, rarely seen in China – has increased sixfold, to 1, 1 million. She has many more followers on Weibo, a Chinese site similar to Twitter, where she posts more often. Tuesday morning, his account is close to five million followers, almost five times more than at the start of the year.
His decision to compete for China has raised questions both there and in the United States. China does not allow dual citizenship and Gu avoided wondering if she had returned her US passport. Online critics have suggested in recent days that her use of banned sites in China indicates she is out of touch with the struggles of millions of Chinese people facing censorship.
But during her Olympic events, she shone and China warmly welcomed her. Most of those who braved the sub-zero temperatures on Tuesday were supportive of her, waving little flags and cheering enthusiastically every time she performed. Cameras and heads were constantly pointing in his direction. The commotion followed her around the slope.
The love story would only deepen with one more medal, especially a gold medal.
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