ZHANGJIAKOU, China (AP) — Even when Eileen Gu’s simply taking a celebratory stroll through the halfpipe, she’s still so stylish and makes it look so effortless.
The 18-year-old American-born freestyle skier who represents China captured Olympic gold in the women’s halfpipe 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 jaunt as the last competitor and with the contest sealed. She had fun with her victory run, too, going big off the walls one last time and bending back her skis — a high-flying, picture-perfect moment to culminate another successful day at her office.
“I feel at peace. I feel grateful. I feel proud,” Gu said. “Skiing is all about fun and individuality and being able to express yourself and find that flow, and for myself I really find that in halfpipe. Being able to feel the rhythm of the walls, and being able to put unique grabs, to try different axis, spin different directions — it’s really fun and it’s the essence of the sport.”
It’s another medal for Gu as she 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.
“It’s amazing,” Karker said of sharing the podium with Sharpe. “Cassie and I have shared so many podiums over the years and I’m so happy we were also able to get this one.”
The temperature hovered around 3 degrees Fahrenheit with an 11 mph 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 teenager 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 Kelly Sildaru of Estonia, who finished fourth. “I would be super-stoked.”
All of this seemed almost surreal to Gu. It’s still just soaking in.
“It has been two straight weeks of the most intense highs and lows I’ve ever experienced in my life,” Gu said. “It’s changed my life forever. The second I landed the last 16 in big air I knew my life was never going to be the same.”
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.