By Winni Zhou and Mari Saito
ZHANGJIAKOU, China (Reuters) -With a stable, near-flawless landing and a heart gesture to the camera, home favourite Su Yiming of China made his Olympic debut on Sunday and received a standing ovation in return.
The 17-year-old snowboarder emerged as the highest scorer in the men’s slopestyle qualification runs at the Beijing Winter Games, advancing to Monday’s final with top billing.
Spectators cheered and waved China’s flag, while volunteers, staff and media members flocked to take pictures of the boarder when he walked off the course.
Su’s performance quickly went viral on social media, earning him four out of the top-10 trending topics on China’s Twitter-like Weibo, where he has more than 257,000 followers.
“Go, Xiaoming! Enjoy the competition!,” said one of the top comments, referring to Su’s nickname.
One of the topics trending concerned a 2014 Chinese film “The Taking of Tiger Mountain” by the action director Tsui Hark, in which Su played a boy who was good at skiing.
Though this is his first Olympics, the teenager already has a number of impressive accomplishments.
He was the first to complete a backslide 1980 Indy Crail on a snowboard and was certified by Guinness World Records for setting a world record in January.
“I have quite a good mentality this time around for my debut at the Olympics… There is nothing to be nervous about. I did my best and enjoyed the event,” Su said, adding that he was grateful for his many supporters.
“I will focus more on my tricks tomorrow… and have fun.”
The teenager said he had saved some more advanced tricks for a higher score at Monday’s final, when he will be competing against his hero, Canadian snowboarder Mark McMorris, twice an Olympic bronze medallist.
“I’ve actually known Su for a quite a long time, like when he was this big,” said McMorris, pointing to his waist.
“He got into it at a very young age and he’s progressed so much over the last couple of years. It’s cool to see him rise to the occasion.”
(Reporting by Winni Zhou and Mari Saito; editing by Clare Fallon)