Canada's Megan Oldham 4th in ski big air as U.S.- born Eileen Gu wins gold for China
American has faced backlash for her decision to compete for mother's birth country
Canadian freestyle skier Megan Oldham finished fourth in the inaugural Olympic women's big air final as 18-year-old American Eileen Gu captured gold for China in her Games debut on Tuesday morning in Beijing.
Gu, who was born in San Francisco, has faced backlash for her decision to represent her mother's homeland. But her decision paid off with her winning the event on her final jump to capture China's third gold and fifth overall medal at these Games.
Gu topped the podium with a score of 188.25. Tess Ledeux of France won silver (187.50), while Switzerland's Mathilde Gremaud claimed bronze on her 22nd birthday with 182.50. The two best scores of three jumps are combined for each competitor's final score.
"I've never done the [1620 trick] before, I haven't really prepared for it that much either," said 18-year-old Gu, who — in the final run — landed a 1620, a trick only Ledeux had achieved in competition before.
"I think I did two days on the airbag but I've spent a lot of hours visualizing it if that counts. Generally I've visualized for about an hour and a half before bed every day."
WATCH | Gu grabs big air gold for China:
Oldham, who is also at her first Olympics, was just one spot away from the podium following her second run with a combined best score of 174.25. The 20-year-old from Parry Sound, Ont., scored 85 on her first run before besting it with 89.25 on her second with a double cork 1260.
"At this point I don't have any harder tricks so I really did put it all on the line," Oldham said. "I landed the two tricks that I wanted to in finals," Oldham said. "So as much as fourth place is kind of a tough position to be in, I'm still really happy with my jumps."
But she was unable to move into podium position despite posting a solid 88.75 on her final run and improving her overall score to 178. Oldham was first in qualifying, and she won big air silver last month at the X Games after finishing fourth at the 2021 world championships.
WATCH | Canada's Oldham falls just short of big air podium:
Quebec City's Olivia Asselin finished eighth with 147.50 points in her Olympic debut. The Canadian junior champion, Asselin also saved her best for her final run (85.50).
Gu was initially in bronze position heading into the final run after posting scores of 93.75 and 88.50. But she matched the best score of the day (94.50) on her final jump, becoming one of the few women to ever land a double cork 1620 in competition.
WATCH | Oldham wins big air qualiying round:
Stunning backdrop at unique venue
The big air competition was held at the world's first permanent, city-based big air facility, a repurposed steel mill on the west side of Beijing that's made a stunning backdrop for one of the Games' newest sports.
The 200-foot big air structure was built on the site of the former Shougang Group steel mill, China's first state-owned plant that helped the country become a world leader in steel production. Its billowing smokestacks provided work for thousands but also darkened the sky over Beijing's Shijingshan District, contributing to the city's air pollution problem.
China closed the factory in conjunction with the 2008 Summer Games, seeking to clean up its image, as well as its air.
- U.S.-born freestyle ski star Eileen Gu focused on mission amid backlash over decision to represent China
It's central to China's efforts to encourage 300 million people to participate in winter sports in conjunction with these Games. Facilities were carved into the complex's infrastructure to help Chinese athletes train in short track speedskating, figure skating, ice hockey and curling. The Beijing Organizing Committee is even based out of the park's offices.
WATCH | Replay of women's freestyle skiing big air qualifications:
With files from The Associated Press and The Canadian Press