Superstition and switch sixteens bring drama to freeski big air

LAUSANNE, Jan 22 – China’s freestyle skier Gu Ailing Eileen prepared to drop in for her final run in the women’s freeski big air final at the Leysin Park & Pipe.

She stared at the lucky cat drawn on her hand in eyeliner, glanced across at her coach’s lucky T-shirt and proceeded to pick up a total score of 171.25 points over three runs.

“I’m very superstitious,” she said. “But I know that’s not the best thing for people to have when they compete [in big air]. I was looking between my lucky symbols and calmed myself down.

“I did [the symbol] in eyeliner. I don’t even know how to do eyeliner. If I podium at the actual Olympics I’ll have the lucky cat tattooed.”

Gu Ailing Eileen (CHN) shows off her lucky cat | Photo: Matt Allen
Gu Ailing Eileen (CHN) shows off her lucky cat | Photo: Matt Allen

The 16-year-old’s pre-game routine paid dividends. She edged ahead of silver medallist Kirsty Muir (GBR), on 170.00 points. Sweden’s Jennie-Lee Burmansson finished in third place.

As she braked at the bottom of the run, Gu screamed, “Three for three” into nearby TV cameras.

“I did that because I entered three contests and I podiumed at all three of them,” she said, having also won gold in halfpipe and grabbed silver in slopestyle. “There’s no better feeling in the world.

“Being able to push my body and my mind to the limits simultaneously and be rewarded for that at such a high-level event is really everyone’s dream here.”

Gu Ailing Eileen (CHN) in action | Ben Queenborough for OISphotos.com
Gu Ailing Eileen (CHN) in action | Ben Queenborough for OISphotos.com

Adrenaline levels were equally high in the men’s freeski big air final, which was won by Matej Svancer (CZE) on 186 points, ahead of Kiernan Fagan (USA) and Orest Kovalenko (UKR).

“I’m so hyped to have put the tricks down,” Svancer said. “The Olympic medal is so heavy for me. I’m super hyped.

“At the top of the mountain I thought, ‘Just get the trick but don’t get hurt’. I don’t do the switch 16 [trick] that often and it was a bit scary.”

Added tension was created by a series of crashes during the qualification rounds of both the freeski and snowboard big air competitions. At the top of the jump, the waiting athletes did their best to shut out the drama unfolding below them.

OIS ma/pp/rm

By Olympic Information Service

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