By Mitch Phillips
ZHANGJIAKOU, China (Reuters) -Qi Guangpu completed a Chinese freestyle skiing aerials double and finally got to taste Olympic glory after three near-misses when he impressively won the men’s individual gold on Wednesday, two days after Xu Mengtao won the women’s event.
Qi, a former double world champion, delivered a spectacular quintuple twister and nailed the landing for 129 points to finish well clear and win the host nation’s first gold in the event since 2006.
Ukraine’s defending champion Oleksandr Abramenko (116.50) took silver – having made the Final Six by the fractional margin of .08 points – and Ilia Burov of the Russian Olympic Committee (114.93) claimed bronze for the second Games in a row.
The 31-year-old Qi who finished fourth, seventh and seventh in the last three Olympics and just missed out on team gold last week, was in a class of his own in the final as, after a high-quality qualifying round, most of his rivals faltered when trying to nail high degree of difficulty routines.
“I felt the competition was a high level today, in the final round five of the six chose the most difficult jump and that inspired me to do the same,” he said.
“In the previous three Games I couldn’t get a gold, but those failures helped me focus on training, and made me analyse the reasons and I was able to improve those minor weaknesses and succeed in the end. And it is wonderful that I was able to achieve that success in my home city.”
Justin Schoenefeld and Chris Lillis, who were faultless when helping the United States win the team final last week, both messed up their landings in the “one jump for glory” format Super Final, to finish fifth and sixth.
Having scraped into the final Abramenko would surely never have thought his score would earn him a silver. “I knew 116.50 is not a score that guarantees you a medal and I knew the judges would see my error,” he said. “I was upset I was upset I didn’t score higher but happy that it turned out to be enough for silver.”
Qi was third to go and put himself in pole position and brought a roar from the respectable crowd with his superb Back Double Full-Full Double Full routine.
Switzerland’s Pirmin Werner was clean on landing but a little ragged in the air, and eventually finished fourth.
That left Burov, the brother of current world champion Maxim who failed to reach even the first final. Burov had top-scored with 129.50 in Final One and though his jump was good, the degree of difficulty was a touch too safe and the gold was Qi’s.
Earlier, his compatriot Jia Zongyang, desperate for gold after silver four years ago in Pyeongchang and bronze at Sochi 2014, was one of the few to mess up his landing and failed to make the cut for the final six by one position.
(Reporting by Mitch Phillips; Editing by Ken Ferris and Christian Radnedge)