Eileen Gu’s face said it all. After delivering a massive third run in the final of the women’s freestyle Big Air contest, Gu had no doubt she belonged atop the podium.
Gu’s enthusiasm and shock was obvious from the moment she landed her final trick.
“That was the best moment of my life. The happiest moment, day, whatever — of my life. I just cannot believe what just happened,” Gu said. “That was a trick I have never done before, had never attempted before.”
Born and raised in San Francisco, Gu chose to represent China, her mother’s home country, in the Winter Olympics.
Gu’s first two runs earned her scores of 93.75 and 88.50, respectively, and put her in 3rd place heading into the final round.
With a medal locked up, Gu said she debated whether or not to attempt her final trick, which ultimately propelled her from bronze to gold in the final minutes of competition.
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“I was thinking, ‘Should I improve on my previous [medal] and go for the silver or should I whip out this random trick I’d never done before and go for gold?’” Gu said. “Even if I didn’t land it, I felt it would send a message out to the world and hopefully encourage more girls to break their own boundaries.”
That bold decision paid off as she then connected on a double cork 1620 to close with a 94.5 final run, overtaking Tess Ledeux of France, who won the silver, and Mathilde Gremaud of Switzerland, who took bronze.
Gu finished with a combined score of 188.25, .75 points ahead of Ledeux.
In addition to inspiring girls around the world, Gu said one of her goals was to “enjoy the moment” and remain grateful for the opportunity to compete at the Olympics.
This was the first year Big Air skiing was contested at the Olympics. Snowboarding Big Air debuted in PyeongChang.
This was the first Olympic appearance for both Ledeux, 20, and Gu, 18.
Ledeux, who hit back-to-back 90-plus point runs to open the program described herself as “speechless” following the event.
“I am a bit disappointed, but I am so happy to grab the second place today,” Ledeux said. “I'm speechless. It's been a lot of training, a lot of support. I am speechless, sorry. I just want to say thanks to my family, friends, everybody.”
Gremaud, on the other hand, is familiar with Olympic hardware, having won silver in the slopestyle event in 2018. This time around, she had even more of a cause to celebrate -- Monday was her 22nd birthday.
“It was insane. I gave it all I had and I'm so happy to have come away with a medal,” she said. “It's the best present for sure … It's been a tough summer so I'm super happy to have this reward today.”
Darian Stevens, the lone American representative in the finals, finished 11th with a total of 75 points. Teammates Marin Hamill, Maggie Voisin and Caroline Claire competed in the qualification round but did not finish in the top-12 to advance.
All these athletes are expected to complete in the slopestyle event. Qualification are set to begin Saturday at 9 p.m. EST, with final rounds to follow Sunday.