Freeskier Gu out to “change the world” after halfpipe gold

LAUSANNE, Jan 20 – The world’s best young freestyle skiers revelled in the chance to inspire a new generation as crowds of kids packed the slopes for the women’s freeski halfpipe and men’s freeski slopestyle finals on Monday.

The rescheduling of the slopestyle finals from Sunday gave the relatively recent sport an enhanced stage and with schools from all over the region flocking to the Leysin Park & Pipe centre, it took full advantage.

“I was high-fiving kids on the way up,” women’s halfpipe gold medal winner Gu Ailing Eileen (above) of China said. “You’ve got to put the focus on the next generation.”

Olympic Channel Video: where-does-eileen-gu-find-the-time

Silver medallist in the women’s freeski slopestyle, Gu was irrepressible on the halfpipe. She topped qualification before dominating the final. Her 93.00-point second run in the final was 7.34 clear of compatriot Li Fanghui in second, with the USA’s Hanna Faulhaber taking bronze.

“One of the main reasons I switched to China [from the USA] was I felt like I had more opportunity to inspire young girls,” said Gu, who grew up in San Francisco with her Chinese mother. “And I think I have definitely had that impact.”

(L-R) Li Fanghui, Gu Ailing Eileen and Hanna Faulhaber | Dyland Burns for OISphotos.com

When asked if she had a specific message for those who had just watched her storm to a Youth Olympic Games title, Gu was straight to the point.

“Don’t be afraid to try,” she said. “Try a new trick, a new sport, sit next to someone new at lunch, make a new friend. That is how we are going to change the world.”

Hanna Faulhaber on her way to bronze | Joel Marklund for OISphotos.com

Faulhaber could not agree more. “The Youth Olympics can make a difference, 100 per cent,” the 15-year-old said. “There are not that many girls doing our sport but here so many have been watching me practice even, it’s amazing.”

Second behind the USA’s Kiernan Fagan in the men’s freeski slopestyle final, Melvin Moren (SWE) summed up why this sport is grabbing the attention of so many at Lausanne 2020.

“Freestyle is all about friendships,” said the Swede who pulled out an 89.33-point effort in the third run to catapult himself into the silver medal position. “I’ve got so many new friends here, Hunter [Henderson, USA, the bronze medallist] and Kiernan and others.”

Fagan put himself in the box seat with a 90.66-point display on the second run but he and the rest knew that Matej Svancer (CZE), the top scorer in qualification, still had two attempts left.

Kiernan Fagan in action at Leysin Park | Dylan Burns for OISphotos.com

But after posting 85.00 in his penultimate effort, Svancer risked it all on the final run and fell. That left the way clear for Henderson to join his roommate on the podium.

“I do not think that I would have skied as well if it was not for him,” Henderson said of Fagan, whom he has known since he was 11. “It was really helpful to have him push me.”

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By Olympic Information Service

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