ZHANGJIAKOU, China (Reuters) -China’s home favourite Eileen Gu blazed through women’s freeski halfpipe qualifiers on Thursday, moving a step closer to her goal of winning three medals at her maiden Olympic Games.
Gu dropped into the halfpipe on Thursday and made two confident runs, earning a top score of 95.50 after landing back-to-back 900s with mid-air grabs in her second try. With her spot in the final virtually assured, Gu waved her ski poles and smiled widely at the camera after her run.
“I actually didn’t have a lot of time for training but I’m satisfied today,” Gu told reporters, adding that she hadn’t had a day of rest since the opening ceremony of the Beijing Games.
Despite that, Gu was in good spirits.
“I feel really good,” she said.
Loyal fans braved frigid temperatures of -14.6 degrees Celsius (5.7°F) to hold up red cards emblazoned with the 18-year-old’s name in Chinese, while other supporters unfurled a large Chinese flag and shook neon green plastic handclappers whenever Gu appeared on the halfpipe.
Gu, who competed in the U.S. team as a child but switched to compete for China in 2019, has said that her new goal for the Games was to finish on the podium for all three of her events after she won a Big Air gold last week and grabbed a silver medal at the slopestyle final on Tuesday.
In second place in Thursday’s qualifiers was first-time Olympian Rachael Karker of Canada with her best run score of 89.50.
Often compared to Gu and referred by Chinese commentators as one of the “wonder girls” of freestyle skiing, Estonia’s Kelly Sildaru also advanced to the final, with her first run score of 87.50 easily putting her at third place. Confident in her first score, Sildaru did not return for the second run of the day.
“It was a pretty easy run, I was so surprised I scored so much,” Sildaru said, indicating that she had more tricks to during the final.
Pyeongchang gold medallist Cassie Sharpe from Canada came in at sixth place during the qualifiers.
Each skier got two runs on the course in the qualifiers. The top 12 from the day’s runs advanced to the final, which is scheduled for Friday.
(Additional reporting by Philip O’Connor;Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman)