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Gold medal winner China’s Eileen Gu celebrates during the venue award ceremony for the women’s halfpipe finals at the 2022 Winter Olympics, Friday, Feb. 18, 2022, in Zhangjiakou, China. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)
ZHANGJIAKOU, China — 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 (minus 16 degrees Celsius) with an 11 mph (18 kph) 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.
IOC president criticizes skater’s entourage
International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach has criticized Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva’s entourage for their “tremendous coldness” toward the 15-year-old skater after her mistake-filled free skate at the Beijing Olympics.
Bach says it was “chilling” to see on television. Valieva, who has been at the center of a controversy over a positive doping test, finished fourth overall despite placing first in the women’s short program earlier in the week.
The IOC president did not name Valieva’s coach, Eteri Tutberidze, who was seen on camera telling a visibly upset Valieva “Why did you let it go? Why did you stop fighting?”
Bach says “you could feel this chilling atmosphere, this distance.”
Tutberidze and other members of Valieva’s entourage will be investigated over the teenager’s positive test for a heart medication ahead of the Olympics.
Bach says the pressure on Valieva was “beyond my imagination.”
Germany’s Friedrich returns to training
Germany’s Francesco Friedrich took part in the final day of four-man bobsled training at the Beijing Olympics on Friday, one day after suggesting he might skip the session.
Friedrich was the first sled down the hill on Friday for the final training session. That may have played a role in his decision to take part. Friedrich was one of the last sleds to get on the ice Thursday during four-man training and afterward the three-time Olympic champion expressed concerns about the conditions of the track.
He likely enjoyed what he saw Friday. Friedrich started the day with a run of 58.98 seconds. That was his fastest in five trips down the Yanqing Sliding Center ice in his four-man sled this week.
He’s the overwhelming favorite for gold in the four-man event that starts on Saturday.
Some top sliders did choose to skip training Friday, including Canadian teammates Justin Kripps and Chris Spring, Germany’s Christoph Hafer and Latvian veteran Oskars Kibermanis. It’s not unusual for veterans to opt out of a training session, in order to preserve their bodies and sleds for the looming two days of competition.
Judges clash with anti-doping officials
The judges who let Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva compete at the Beijing Olympics despite a positive test for a banned substance blamed anti-doping officials for a “failure to function effectively.”
The Court of Arbitration for Sport, in a newly published 41-page document explaining their decision, cited an “untenable delay” at the testing laboratory in Sweden.
It meant Valieva’s positive test for a heart medication was only revealed during the Olympics despite her urine sample arriving in Stockholm on Dec. 29. The lab’s staffing was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Her lawyers suggested she was contaminated because her grandfather uses the banned heart medication she tested positive for.
The judges’ full verdict was published early Friday, hours after the 15-year-old Valieva’s mistake-filled free skate dropped her from the lead to finish fourth in the Olympic women’s individual event.
Ukranian bobsledder tests positive
The International Testing Agency says Ukrainian bobsledder Lidiia Hunko has tested positive for an anabolic steroid at the Beijing Games.
The ITA says she failed a drug test after competing Monday. She placed 20th in women’s monobob.
Hunko is the third athlete to test positive for doping at the Beijing Olympics and the second from Ukraine, after cross-country skier Valnetyna Kaminska.
All three ITA cases in Beijing have detected a steroid.
The 28-year-old Hunko placed second in the 2016 World’s Strongest Woman contest, according to her official Beijing Olympics athlete biography.
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