ZHANGJIAKOU, CHINA (AFP) – Freestyle skier Nico Porteous survived treacherous winds, bone-chilling temperatures and a nasty fall to win New Zealand’s second gold medal in Winter Olympic history yesterday in Beijing.
The 20-year-old came out on top in a wild halfpipe final battered by high winds and he took a tumble on his final run that left him bleeding from his ear and nursing a sore shoulder.
But he had already done enough to win thanks to his first-run score of 93 and he was given a congratulatory haka by his New Zealand teammates, having ended American David Wise’s eight-year run as champion.
Snowboarder Zoi Sadowski Synnott gave New Zealand their first ever Winter Olympics gold the previous week and Porteous said it was “almost scary and really motivating” to watch her make history.
“To have Zoi do that was so inspirational, so driving for me,” said Porteous, who won bronze in the event four years ago at the Pyeongchang Games.
“It made me put my head down and do everything I could for this moment.”
The competition featured several high-impact wipe-outs in the tricky conditions, including one on the last run for American Aaron Blunck that delayed Porteous’s celebrations.
Wise, who finished second on 90.75, said the weather “defined the competition”, realising beforehand that it “might be the kind of day where a stock run could be on the podium”.
Porteous’ title-winning first run was anything but ordinary, but he acknowledged that he needed “a little bit of luck” to claim the gold.
“It’s a constant uphill battle to keep your legs warm and keep your body warm because there’s nothing worse than dropping into a run with cold muscles and not feeling sharp,” said Porteous.
“In our sport, especially on a day like today, it’s anyone’s game.”
American Alex Ferreira finished third on 86.75, putting all three medal winners from the 2018 Pyeongchang Games back on the podium but in different order.
Wise won gold that year, as he had at the 2014 Sochi Games, but he was satisfied with his performance despite breaking his ski on his second run.
“That’s how the cookie crumbles for me today,” said the 31-year-old.
“I’m super-excited for Alex, sharing the podium with him and Nico again today. It was amazing.”
Gus Kenworthy, who won silver in slopestyle at the Sochi Games, finished eighth in his final competition before retiring.
Kenworthy, who switched allegiance from the United States to Britain ahead of the Games, crashed heavily on his second run, smashing his back into the wall of the halfpipe.
Porteous was sore from his fall in his final run but said that he wanted to “leave everything out there” despite having the gold as good as wrapped up by that point.
It gave New Zealand even more to celebrate at a historic Games for the country.
“We’re a small, humble little country,” said Porteous.
“We stick to our roots, we work hard and we have amazing facilities to train on.”