Canada's Megan Oldham tops freestyle skiing big air qualifying to punch ticket to final

20-year-old Megan Oldham will have a shot at a gold medal in the first-ever Olympic freestyle ski big air competition after posting the top score of 171.25 in Monday's qualifying round.

20-year-old Newmarket, Ont., native posts score of 171.25

Megan Oldham is into the final of the women's freestyle skiing big air competition at Beijing 2022. (David Ramos/Getty Images)

Canada's Megan Oldham punched her ticket to the inaugural Olympic final in women's freestyle ski big air, winning the qualifying round on Monday at the Big Air Shougang, topping a 12-skier field that will vie for medals.

Oldham narrowly beat France's Tess Ledeux for the top spot after Ledeux topped Oldham for gold at last month's X Games in Aspen, Colo.

Team China's Eileen Gu nearly saw her goal of three Olympic medals fly away. The American-born freestyle skier who spurned Team USA for China ahead of the Beijing Games lost a ski on her second run and crashed into do-or-die position entering Round 3.

Gu scaled back her plans in the final round and put down a conservative right-side 900 — 2 1/2 spins while airborne on the 155-foot ramp — keeping the Olympics from a double-whammy of lost star power about an hour after American skier Mikaela Shiffrin was disqualified in giant slalom.

WATCH | Megan Oldham wins qualiying round on women's freestyle ski big air:

Megan Oldham puts down the best run to qualify in 1st place in women's freeski big air

10 months ago
Duration 1:39
Megan Oldham of Parry Sound, Ont., had the highest score in qualifying , 91.25 points, as she advanced to the Olympic women's freestyle skiing big air finals in first place.

Gu said the wind changed direction between her first and second runs. Because she was the fifth of 25 skiers down the jump at Big Air Shougang, she didn't notice the shift until she was midway through her first stab at the right-side 900. She landed awkwardly and lost a ski, putting all the pressure on run No. 3.

She gathered herself for a clean third run, and that score combined with a double cork 1080 on her first turn left Gu in fifth place — easily into the 12-skier finals field.

Gu's decision to ski for China has brought backlash on the former Team USA member. Her mother is from China, and the San Francisco-born and bred skier says she wants to be a role model for young girls in China who have not had many female athletes to look up to over the decades.

The big air venue at Beijing's Shougang Industrial Park — a repurposed steel mill that's become a sprawling space for sports and culture events — can seat nearly 5,000 but was less than a quarter full due to coronavirus measures. Gu got by far the biggest reaction, including a collective exhale and applause when she stomped down the 900.

Gu and her competitors expect to go much bigger for Tuesday's finals. Big Air Shougang — the world's only permanent, city-based big air venue — has drawn rave reviews from skiers in the men's and women's field, and several have pulled off tricks for the first time during practice.

Ledeux became the first woman to land a double cork 1620 at the X Games — which Gu skipped — and China's freeskiiing superstar hinted she's ready to match that.

"Maybe," she said with a laugh. "I can't spoil it for you guys."

Gu has victories over the past year in all three Olympic freeski events — big air, slopestyle and halfpipe — and is a contender to be the first action-sports athlete to win gold in three Winter Games events.

With files from Benjamin Steiner, CBC Sports

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