ZHANGJIAKOU, China (Reuters) – American Chloe Kim breezed through Wednesday’s qualifiers in the women’s snowboard halfpipe at the Beijing Games to advance to the final in first place, while Japanese teen Mitsuki Ono followed in her Olympic debut.
Kim, who at 17 became the youngest woman to win an Olympic snowboard gold medal at the Pyeongchang Games in 2018, scored 87.75 in her first run, but fell in her second try after fumbling the landing of a backside trick seconds after dropping into the halfpipe.
Kim, now 21, took nearly two years off the mountain to focus on her studies and her mental health after she suffered burnout in the wake of her last Olympics.
The American said she was not surprised she fell in her second run of the day because she was trying a new line of tricks, but said she was “stoked” with her first score.
“I’m honestly in such a good place right now – just so grateful, taking it all in, and I’m so excited for tomorrow,” Kim said, before hurrying off the course in search of food.
Ono, 17, came in second with her best score of 83.75 from her confident second run.
“I’ve been feeling really good since my practice sessions and I’m happy to have cleanly landed all my moves today,” Ono told reporters. “I’m going to give it everything I’ve got in the final and if that comes with the medal, that’s great,” she said.
In third place was Chinese four-time Olympian Cai Xuetong, 28, who was fifth at the Games in 2018.
Cai said she was happy about the day’s performance and was trying to remain relaxed going into Thursday’s final.
“I don’t want to give myself too much stress,” the veteran said, after her best score of 83.25 guaranteed her a spot in the final.
Each boarder got two runs in the halfpipe, with their ranking going into the final determined by their best score out of the two runs. The top 12 female boarders from Wednesday’s qualifiers will advance to the final.
Japanese sisters Sena and Ruki Tomita also qualified for the final, ranking fifth and sixth, respectively.
Pyeongchang silver medallist Liu Jiayu of China, seconds into her first run, fell near the bottom of the pipe and held her helmeted head in her hands for a moment before standing up.
Liu squeaked into the final in seventh place.
“Of course I have more tricks prepared for the final and a higher goal (to win gold) this time,” she said.
The competition took place at the Genting Snow Park in Zhangjiakou, where riders dropped into the halfpipe under clear skies with temperatures hovering around -13 degrees Celsius (8.6°F).
(Reporting by Winni Zhou and Mari Saito; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman and Himani Sarkar)