Of course there’s a Boston connection to the first medal of the Beijing Winter Olympics for Team USA.
In 2016, a Big Air jump was built at Fenway Park as part of US Ski & Snowboard’s effort to promote the sport, and an 18-year-old from Connecticut described then as a 2018 Olympic hopeful (she made the team) won the women’s event by a mile.
That same Julia Marino, from Westport, Conn., is now 24 and she won the silver medal in women’s slopestyle on the first big day of competition at the 2022 Olympics. Her second run of the final set the bar in the competition until the last rider, Zoi Sadowski Synnott, went a bit bigger to seize the gold with a walkoff final run.
In 2016, the Globe’s Kevin Paul Dupont covered the Fenway Big Air competition, and described Marino’s win this way:
“It was Marino’s first time in Fenway, even though her father lived here years ago and, she said, a number of relatives still live in the area. Late to arrive here on Wednesday, she stepped inside the park for the first time on Thursday, only hoping to build on her tour experience with what she figured would be a few practice runs.
“As it turned out, she entered the finals ranked second overall through the qualifying runs, then took the lead right away in the finals and held on for the win before a hearty, shivering crowd of 11,786 (roughly half capacity for the event).”
Slopestyle is basically a series of Big Air jumps along with other features in which riders perform multiple tricks or stunts, and American women have always done well in snowboard disciplines at Olympus. Two-time Olympics champion Jamie Anderson was in the finals in Beijing and finished ninth.
Marino scored an 87.68 on her second run, which the Associated Press reported included back-to-back 900-degree stunts followed by a 1080-degree stunt she landed cleanly to take over first place. It was a dazzling performance by a gifted athlete who announced her presence back in 2016 in Boston on a freezing cold day, just as it was in China on Sunday.
Stay tuned. The women’s Big Air competition is scheduled for Feb. 15.
As I waited for the men’s downhill ski race Saturday night, I was reminded of my own experience covering the Olympics in-person in 2018 in South Korea. On Day 1, I ventured to the Jeongseon Alpine Center for the men’s downhill, but high winds scrapped the event.
I found out the race was off just as the media bus was pulling up to the venue. While my colleagues all decided to just stay aboard and ride back to PyeongChang, I decided to hop off because I wanted to check out the setup and the course, and needed to find a story anyway. It was really beneficial to head up to the media center, where I encountered Peter Graves of Vermont, who was serving as an announcer and gave me the full rundown on what to expect there and the particulars of the course.
The other thing that has me thinking back to visiting South Korea is the talk surrounding the fact that these Olympics are being held in a region that does not get much snow. Guess what? There was little to no natural snow in South Korea, either, and several recent winter games have also had their snow issues. But snowmaking technology has really evolved, and in many cases, the man-made snow is magnificent.
A surprising first
It was interesting that Zoi Sadowski Synnott’s gold medal in women’s snowboard slopestyle was New Zealand’s first gold in the Winter Olympics. For a country that boasts many ski areas, one might think it would have had more success in snow sports.
According to the Associated Press, many elite-level snowsports athletes train in New Zealand during June, July, and August – summer months in the northern hemisphere but prime time for winter sports in New Zealand.
The name game
It’s hard not to be amused by the names of the features on the snowboard slopestyle course. Riders hit structures called the “Shred Shed,” which looks like a small building of Asian architecture; the “Twisted Sisters,” a pair of sidewinder-style jumps, “The Matrix,” a collection of jump options, and “The Great Wall,” which is styled like China’s famous wonder. They’re creative and fun, just like slopestyle.
Defying Father Time
In Boston, we know all about athletes continuing to compete at an elite level well beyond the customary expiration dates for their sports. Tom Brady is Exhibit A, and Zdeno Chara is right behind him.
Enter 49-year-old Claudia Pechstein of Germany, who on Saturday became the oldest athlete to compete at a Winter Olympics. Pechstein finished last in the 3,000-meters speed skating event, but marked her eighth Olympics appearance.
“The result of today was not so important, it was just to race and to be here. I am super proud,” Pechstein said.
According to NBC, the previous record-holder was Anne Abernathy, who competed in luge at the 2002 games for the US Virgin Islands at age 48.
Quote of the day, Part 1
“He gets to sit on the throne today.” – Mikael Kingsbury of Canada, regarded as the “King of Moguls”, after finishing second to Walter Wallberg of Sweden in men’s moguls Saturday.
Quote of the day, Part 2
“I really believe Canada and the US are playing on a different planet right now.” – Czech women’s hockey coach Tomas Pacina on the two most dominant teams at the Olympics.