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Proving that anything can happen in Olympic Slopestyle, the very last woman to qualify for the 12-skier final survived all the drama on a frigid Tuesday morning to turn her 2018 silver medal into 2022 gold.
In claiming victory, Mathilde Gremaud of Switzerland stymied Eileen Gu’s bid to win three gold medals for the host nation. (Gu finished second, 0.33 points back.) Gremaud also outscored Kelly Sildaru of Estonia, the top qualifier who is known to be so comfortable on the rails that oddsmakers tapped her as the biggest threat to steal gold from Gu, the Olympic champion in Big Air.
In the best-of-three-run format, however, none of the medalists posted her best run in the same round. Sildaru’s first run was enough to secure a place on the podium. Gremaud’s second run was her best. Meanwhile, Gu was bottom-feeding in eighth place until her final run launched her into the top three.
The difference? Overall impression (worth 40 percent of the score). Gremaud’s winning run was so technical on the rail section and so creative on the jumps that it earned 86.56 points, partly for spin variations that included a double cork 1080, a rightside rodeo 900, and a switch left 720 off the final “money” booter. Making Gremaud’s win even more improbable, she broke her binding on the first run. “I think it was a good distraction for me,” she said. “It put my mind somewhere else, instead of thinking, ‘Oh man, what am I going to do? I just crashed.’ I emptied my head and was thinking about my binding.”
Gremaud was also rebounding from the previous day when she qualified 12th (of 12 skiers). “I was really at the bottom of the hole,” she said. “I cried for about 30 minutes and after that, I was able to focus on today. Everybody starts from zero again, so I had hope.”
So did Tuesday’s lone US finalist: Maggie Voisin, who was briefly in third place. In the end, the skier from Whitefish, Montana, placed fifth at her third Olympics at age 23. “I’m really-really proud of myself and what I was able to accomplish here,” Voisin said. “I put down what I wanted to. I wish I could have cleaned it up a little more, [but] it was going to be tough to crack the top-three, that’s for sure. I have been through so much in the last four years just to even be at the Olympics, to say the least – so…no regrets.”
On January 23, 2021, Voisin lost her older brother, Michael, to suicide and was wearing his Army dog tag which she said, “hangs at my heart” in competition.
Prior to that, Voisin had placed fourth in slopestyle at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics, which had also marked a comeback. Four years earlier, in Sochi, as a 15-year-old rookie in her first season as a pro, she made her first Olympic team but on the third day of training—the day of Opening Ceremony—she ran into a rail and fractured her right fibula above her ankle. She still marched in with the U.S. team (wearing an ankle brace), but that was it.
“I didn’t know then if I would ever get the opportunity to go back,” she said. “I wanted to take advantage of it. My parents and my grandma had flown in that day all the way from the States. They didn’t know [I was hurt] until they landed. Having them there through that tough moment was really crucial for me, especially at that age.”
Then, in Voisin’s first competition back, the 2014 Dew Tour stop in Breckenridge the day before her 16th birthday, she tore her left ACL, lateral meniscus, and medial meniscus. She came back again and, in her very next contest, placed second in the PyeongChang test event.
“The best is yet to come,” she said four years ago at a Team USA media summit, just before the 2018 Olympics. “It really is. I just want to work harder every season. The women’s field is getting bigger and better. It’s motivating.”
After Tuesday’s slopestyle final in Beijing, Voisin sounded far from finished, saying she would keep going through another Olympic cycle to the 2026 Milano-Cortina Games and possibly beyond. “As long as the body allows me!” she said.
Meanwhile, two of her U.S. Slopestyle teammates will face their own roads to recovery. Marin Hamill of Park City, Utah, was expected to join Voisin in Tuesday’s final but had to scratch after injuring her right leg on Monday when she crash-landed a 720 on the bottom jump of her second qualifying run. Then Caroline Claire of Vermont injured her right knee in Slopestyle training and never started. The only other U.S. finisher was Darian Stevens, in 18th place.
Next, watch for Gu in the halfpipe where she will, once again, face Sildaru, the 19-year-old Estonian flagbearer, with hopes of capturing her third medal of the Games to accompany her gold in Big Air and silver in Slopestyle. In the halfpipe, Gu, 18, will probably change her music after riding to Lady Gaga in Slopestyle and hip hop by the $uicideboy$ to pump her up for Big Air.
Plus, Gu will have another secret weapon. “My grandma’s coming out today!” Gu said before dashing out of the press conference to train in the pipe. “She’s going to watch me compete in halfpipe which means the world to me. She’s never watched me compete before, so hopefully I can put on a good show for her.”