Eileen Gu: Chinese star, 18, makes freeski history at Beijing 2022 with halfpipe gold for third medal of Winter Olympics
Eileen Gu, the Chinese superstar who has become the poster girl of these Winter Olympics, is now a two-time Olympic champion at the age of just 18. She won big air gold last week Beijing 2022, and after winning slopestyle silver as well she has gone on to win the halfpipe event at the Genting Snow Park H & S Stadium. It means she is the first freeski athlete to win three medals at one Olympics.
Gu celebrates with rivals after ‘setting benchmark’ to win gold
Gu’s score of 95.25 was 4.5 points clear of Canada’s Cassie Sharpe in silver, with Rachael Karker taking the bronze and Team GB’s 19-year-old Zoe Atkin finishing ninth after stumbling on her first two runs and scoring 73.25 with her last effort.
Eileen Gu’s remarkable medal haul
Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics – Halfpipe gold, big air gold, slopestyle silver
Aspen 2021 World Championships – Halfpipe gold, slopestyle gold, big air bronze
Aspen 2021 Winter X Games – Superpipe gold, slopestyle gold, big air bronze
Lausanne 2020 Winter Youth Olympics – Halfpipe gold, big air gold, slopestyle silver
The 12 finalists went down in reverse order based on their qualification score, meaning Atkin was fourth last and Gu the final athlete out on the halfpipe at the Genting Snow Park H & S Stadium.
‘Got to get those gains in’ – Gu munches on snack after Run 2 of slopestyle qualification
Each rider had three runs, with just their best score counting, and the early benchmark was set by 17-year-old American Hanna Faulhaber with a score of 85.25.
The first 1080 of the event then saw defending champion Sharpe go top with a 89.00, and the Canadian was evidently in the mood when looking into the camera in the finish area and shouting “it’s the Olympics baby! Let’s go!”
The standards were already high, and Atkin, bronze medallist at the world championships last year, knew she would have go big to make the podium.
She was unable to land a switch trick on her first run, however. “Big shame for Atkin,” Ian Findlay said on Eurosport’s commentary. “It wasn’t the cleanest of top sections.”
James Webb added: “Unfortunately this will be a throwaway, but she will have two more attempts.”
‘I am not crying, you are!’ - Gu claims gold medal on home snow
Like Gu, recent X Games superpipe champion Kelly Sildaru was also competing in her third event of these Games, and the slopestyle bronze medallist could only go fourth with her first run of 80.25.
Rachael Karker, silver at worlds last year, recovered from a “near disaster” at the start – just clipping the lip – before putting together two straight 900s to score 87.75 and slot into second.
Then it was the turn of Gu, and she was evidently delighted with her opening effort. Webb said: “I’m never worried about her falling over, her execution is the highest in this field. This is without doubt the best run we’ve seen so far.”
Indeed, it scored 93.25 to go first, meaning Gu would take some stopping having already won every World Cup halfpipe event so far this season.
The first six athletes were unable to disrupt the top three of Gu, Sharpe and Karker in their second run, with Sharpe then upping her score to 90.00 to solidify silver position.
For Atkin, her second run did not go to plan either, with the Briton unable to recover from a deep landing before losing a ski for a second time.
‘Big!’ – GB's Atkin ‘looking great’ as she secures place in halfpipe final
Findlay added: “Not happening for Atkin, this is quite rare, she is normally quite consistent. It’s going to be all or nothing in the third run for Atkin. I don’t think she’ll be feeling the pressure. Some days it just works out your way, some days it doesn’t.”
Sildaru’s 87.00 was just 0.75 off third, with Karker then unable to better her opening run before Gu went down for a second time.
On this occasion, two 900s to open saw her “take it to the moon” according to Findlay, with the alley-oop follow-ups making for a 95.25 – two marks better than her first run.
“She’s out on her own. We are seeing some of the best halfpipe skiing we’ve seen from anyone in the history of this sport,” Findlay said.
“She is dominating the halfpipe final, and we have one run to go.”
Sharpe pushed to find that little bit extra after the first six athletes were unable to break into the top four, and her 90.75 once more improved her standing in second to virtually guarantee the Canadian a medal after a spate of injury problems since Pyeongchang.
There was then concern for China’s Kexin Zhang, who was down after a 1080 attempt and required medical attention. It resulted in a lengthy stoppage, but fortunately she got back on her feet and skied towards the finish area.
That delay came with Atkin waiting to go next, and this time she was able to put together a clean run and score 73.25 – a valiant effort but ultimately disappointing given she posted an 86.75 in qualifying.
“She didn’t quite have the amplitude she’s capable of. She does everything so well but it was not quite her day today,” Findlay said.
Sildaru was looking to disrupt the podium with her final run, but an 85.00 left her in fourth before Karker went out as the final athlete capable of displacing Gu.
Karker already had bronze secured, and her 38.00 guaranteed Gu the gold and meant her final run was simply a procession.
She was already in tears when celebrating with her coaches at the top of the run, and then fist-pumped on her way down with a couple of showboat jumps.
'Great performance, love those tricks' - Morgan analyses Gu mastery of halfpipe
Watch every moment of Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 on discovery+