Tuesday, December 06, 2022

Eileen Gu advances on busy day of freestyle at Olympics

ZHANGJIAKOU, China ( Associated Press) — Trying for three gold medals in one Olympics is a hectic business. So it was no surprise that Eileen Gu was a skier in a hurry Monday.

China’s burgeoning freestyle superstar munched on a fried leek dumpling while she awaited her score in slopestyle qualifying. It came up. She had made it through to the final. And then she hastened over to practice on the halfpipe, where the contest starts later this week.

After opening with a mistake-filled trip down the deep-frozen slopestyle course that put her qualifying in jeopardy, Gu nailed the second run on a sunny, minus-7 degree F (minus-21 degree C) day at the Genting Snow Park. She munched on her dumpling while waiting for the score to pop up. It was a 79.38 — good for third, and comfortably among the top 12 who moved into Tuesday’s final.

“Qualifiers are way scarier for me than finals,” Gu said. “I mean, in finals, the pressure’s off and I just have to go do my thing.”

The perfect follow-up might have been to ask the 18-year-old Gu what it is, exactly, that gives her trouble in these qualifiers. She fell once during big air preliminaries and had to nail a pressure-packed third jump to ensure her spot in the final, where she went on to capture the gold medal.

But before anyone had a chance, she pointed straight ahead.

“Behind you, guys, halfpipe training is going on, I’m supposed to be there,” she said. “I’m already late. I get, like, half the amount of practice everybody else has so I’m really sorry I can’t.”

Gu, whose Chinese name is “Gu Ailing,” has a chance to take over the final week of the Olympics.

Born in the United States and competing for her mother’s home country of China, she has been dominating the airwaves on commercials, and on the mountain. She is trying to become the first action-sports star to win three medals at the same Olympics.

Tess Ledeux of France and Mathilde Gremaud of Switzerland have a chance at two medals. The second- and third-place finishers from big air each made it into the top 12 for slopestyle. So did Kelly Sildaru, who skis for Estonia. Like Gu, she is entered into all three events — big air, slopestyle and halfpipe.

All action on the slopestyle course was pushed back 24 hours after qualifying was postponed because of a windswept snowstorm that hit the mountain Sunday. That made getting to Monday’s halfpipe practice a rush. The delay also meant another day of sitting around, which rarely sits well with the world’s finest-tuned athletes.

“Once they were like, ‘All right, postponed, we’re going to do it again tomorrow,’ you have to mentally reset,” said American skier Maggie Voisin, who qualified in fourth. “I definitely was ready to go, but today was a much more beautiful day and that’s how we want it to go, especially here at the Olympics.”


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