ZHANGJIAKOU, China— American Julia Marino was almost a gold medalist in women’s slopestyle, but instead New Zealand made Olympic history.
Zoi Sadowski Synnott captured New Zealand’s first gold medal in Winter Olympic history, stomping down a pressure-packed run on her last trip down the mountain Sunday to win.
The 20-year-old was one of the very few to put down a clean run on a supersized course where hardpacked snow and bone-cold wind chills made things difficult on all 12 finalists, including two-time defending champion Jamie Anderson, who finished ninth.
Sadowski Synnott went into her last of three runs trailing American Julia Marino but came up big. Nevertheless, it still was the first medal for the Americans in the 2022 Beijing Games.
She landed a double-cork 1080 on the second-to-last jump, including a solid grab of the middle of the board, and held it long enough for the judges to see it clearly. And then she repeated the double cork in a different direction, the way she did in her victory at the Winter X Games last month when she became the first woman to pull it off.
She raised her hands in the air after landing, knowing what she’d done. Marino, who won silver, and third-place finisher Tess Coady of Australia knew it, too. They tackled her at the finish line to celebrate.
A few minutes later, the scoreboard confirmed the outcome, and New Zealand had its first Winter Games victory — brought home by an Australian-born shredder with an American mother and a Kiwi father. They moved to Wanaka, New Zealand, when Zoi was six.
For the second straight Olympics, this was not the finest showcase of women’s talent on snowboards. In Pyeongchang four years ago, a harsh, shifting wind turned the contest into a demolition derby.
Anderson, an American, somehow survived that day and came away with her second gold despite using tricks that were far from state of the art.
Four years later, the wind wasn’t a factor, but the super-hard snowpack and the size of the course — dotted with ice-block replicas of The Great Wall and even a pagoda-roofed “guard house” to run rails off — made it tough on everyone. Even with the sun shining, it was 3 degrees Fahrenheit (minus-16 Celsius) with a minus-13 (minus-25) wind chill at the start of the contest.
Of the 36 runs, 25 were aborted either because of falls or speed issues that made the hardest jumps too risky to navigate. Sadowski Synnott’s winning score of 92.88 was the only mark over 90.
It was only two weekends ago in perfect conditions in Aspen, Colorado, that Sadowski Synnott became the first woman to land back-to-back double cork 1080s as part of her gold-medal performance. She won big air, as well, and will have the chance to do the same at the Olympics — that contest is set for Feb. 15. She won bronze in that event four years ago.
For now, though, there’s plenty to celebrate in New Zealand, which long has served as a training base for riders in the Northern Hemisphere who need to get work in during June, July and August.
So, yes, it has snow, and halfpipes, and mountain resorts. And now, a gold medal, too.