Switzerland’s Mathilde Gremaud won the women’s freeski slopestyle at the Winter Olympics as Eileen Gu added silver to her big air gold.
Gremaud claimed silver in the slopestyle at Pyeongchang 2018, but went one better in Beijing as a score of 86.56 was enough to beat 18-year-old Gu by just 0.33 points.
It was a remarkable victory given Gremaud had only qualified in 12th, with only the top 12 making the final, while it was the Swiss’ second medal of the Games after winning bronze in the big air.
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Estonia’s Kelly Sildaru finished third to take home the bronze, while Great Britain’s Kirsty Muir finished eighth ahead of teammate Katie Summerhayes, who placed ninth.
The finalists went out in reverse order based on their qualifying scores, meaning Summerhayes was third to go down, and with just the best score counting the Briton knew she had a chance to set the early benchmark given Gremaud and Olivia Asselin stumbled early doors.
A clean run ensured Summerhayes got off to the ideal start. “She sets the standard for the Olympic final, the best we’ve seen from the first three certainly,” said James Webb on Eurosport’s commentary, with the 26-year-old posting 60.01.
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France’s Tess Ledeux then went top with a 72.91 before Muir – sixth in qualifying – attempted to better her teammate, although she was unable to land a difficult double cork 1260 and ended up scoring 41.86.
The spotlight was then on big air champion Gu, and she slotted in at second with a 69.90 – some 10 points shy of her best qualifying score.
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It was then the turn of the two best qualifiers, with just 0.15 points separating Norway’s Johanne Killi (86.00) and Sildaru (86.15) on Monday.
Killi fell on her first run and scored 24.86, but four-time X Games slopestyle champion Sildaru went big, scoring 82.06 to lead a third of the way through.
That did not last long, however, with Gremaud brushing off the disappointment of an opening-run 1.10 to top the standings with a mega 86.56, giving herself every chance of going one better than the silver she won four years ago.
Summerhayes improved with a 64.75 to go fifth, and Muir then “showed the world what she is capable of” – according to Webb – when this time landing the double cork 1260 and scoring 71.30.
That placed Muir in fourth, agonisingly just 1.61 points behind third, but that quickly became fifth after ROC’s Anastasia Tatalina moved into a bronze-medal position with a 74.16.
Once more, that was short-lived for Tatalina as USA’s Maggie Voisin went third, an indication of how fast the leaderboard can change.
That was all before the final three went down for their second run. Gu was seventh and took a tumble off a rail meaning she was unable to improve her position, knowing she had just one last shot in her third run.
Going into the final run, Gremaud was first, Sildaru second, Voisin third – while Gu was eighth, in between Muir and Summerhayes.
Gremaud fell, meaning she would rely on her second run in the hope of holding on for gold, while Summerhayes could not land a 1080 meaning she would not improve on her spot in ninth.
Just three weeks after she won slopestyle gold at the X Games, Ledeux then cut a devastated figure on her way down the slope, knowing she would not medal after she lost control mid-air.
In was then Muir who went for broke in a bid to make the podium, but what the FIS dubs a “butt-check” – where your backside brushes the snow upon landing – meant she scored a 69.21, two points fewer than her best run.
Tatalina then displaced Voisin in third, with the former scoring 75.51 and the latter unable to better her second-run score.
Once again, it was down to the last three. Gu was still in eighth when going down for one final time, and after landing a double cork 1080 there were roars from the home crowd as she put together a clean run.
“I don’t envy the judges today, Gu has arguably landed a harder jump,” Richard Cobbing said on Eurosport, “although I did think we might have seen more from her.”
The run was given 86.23, just 0.33 points off Gremaud, placing her in silver-medal position and pushing Sildaru down into bronze.
Killi knew repeating her best qualifying score would be good enough for third, and though she got an “Oh my god that was so sick!” from Gu in the finish area, mistakes further up the course saw her post 71.78.
Sildaru knew she had third secured, but was looking to change the colour of her medal as the last athlete out. In the end, she settled for bronze as a 78.75 confirmed Gremaud’s status as Olympic champion.
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