ZHANGJIAKOU, China (Reuters) -China’s Eileen Gu made it safely through “scary” freestyle skiing slopestyle qualifiers at the Beijing Olympics on Monday, roaring back in her second run with jumps and mid-air grabs to advance to the final.
Qualifiers were always far more “nerve-wracking” than the final, the 18-year-old said as she munched on a Chinese leak dumpling after her smooth second run, where she landed a cork 720 and a right-side 900 with mid-air grabs.
The jumps earned Gu a second run score of 79.38, guaranteeing her a spot in Tuesday’s final, though she finished behind Estonia’s Kelly Sildaru (86.15) and Norway’s Johanne Killi (86.00).
“Qualifiers are always scary,” Gu told reporters before hurrying off to halfpipe training at the Genting Snow Park in Zhangjiakou.
The U.S.-born athlete, who switched to compete for China in 2019, won gold in the Big Air competition last week and is a favourite for both the slopestyle and halfpipe events.
A small group of local fans stood up and cheered when Gu first dropped into the course, waving little Olympic flags adorned with the popular panda mascot.
The qualifiers were initially scheduled for Sunday morning but rescheduled to Monday due to heavy snow and poor visibility. Some of the athletes said the schedule change threw them off their game.
“Yesterday a lot of girls were ready to go, we’re ready to do this thing … Once they were like, ‘Alright, postponed, we’re going to do it again tomorrow’, you have to mentally reset,” said American Maggie Voisin, who still managed to put down clean runs to move forward to the final.
France’s Tess Ledeux, who won a Big Air silver medal last week, fell on her back but advanced to the final after coming in at ninth place.
“I think every girl is so tired. It’s a big and challenging course,” Ledeux said after finishing her second run.
On Monday, the skies were clear and temperatures hovered around -19 degrees Celsius (-2.2°F) but skiers struggled to get to grips with the course following the weekend blizzard that dumped several inches of fresh powder on the course.
Half of the skiers stumbled or missed their landings altogether and crashed in their first run as they grappled with the rail section of the course.
American Marin Hamill was removed from the course on a stretcher after she crash landed from a jump. She was later taken away on an ambulance by a medical crew.
Hamill still managed to advance to the final after placing seventh in the qualifiers.
(Reporting by Winni Zhou and Mari SaitoEditing by Peter Rutherford)