Despite struggling in his first two runs, the 17-year-old turned in an incredible performance on his third try that put him into first place with a 87.16 score.
It was a good day for the Norwegian and Canadian slopestyle snowboarders on Saturday. Not so much for the Americans.
While the superpowers of slopestyle advanced their entire teams into the 12-rider final Sunday, only one American, Silverthorne phenom Gerard, made the cut on a windy day that challenged a majority of the 35-athlete field.
Gerard’s Summit County neighbors Chris Corning and Kyle Mack, as well as 2014 Olympian Ryan Stassel of Alaska, did not advance. Corning, with the unfortunate position of dropping first in the first qualifying heat, saw judges dock him for a less-than-perfect grab on his first run. He fell short of the top-six by less than three points, finishing ninth in the best-of-two qualifying competition.
The 18-year-old Corning, who had to wait more than half an hour to start due to weather, was curious about the judging, wondering if he should have scored higher. He noted that his rail hits were more technical than those who scored above him. Both Gerard and Mack agreed he deserved at least a few more points. And those few mattered.
“With Corning dropping first, that’s most the time what the judge’s set the score off of and he definitely got a little underscored, personally I think, which is quite a bummer,” said Mack, who lives a few doors down from Corning in Silverthorne. “But things like that in snowboarding happen. You just got to look forward to the future and … there’s hundreds more of these.”
Gerard, renowned for his prowess on rails — thanks in part to the terrain park in the backyard of his family’s Silverthorne home — wove a creative line through the course’s byzantine rail section, which offered myriad opportunities for riders. The three diverse sections of rails — maybe the most archetypal Olympic feature of these PyeongChang Games — play to the 17-year-old Gerard’s strengths. He relishes the chance to flex his mastery in the maze.
“It just takes strategy. There are a lot of creative lines up there,” said Gerard, who boasts a finish corral cheering section of 14-plus boisterous friends and family who were waving giant pictures of his face alongside American flags. After his first run Gerard posed with random fans for photos. Later, he praised the course builders.
“They really kind of killed it on this course. I would have thought the Olympics, FIS, it would have been standard rails and standard hits. But this is a crazy course,” he said. “If you look around, it’s like a jungle there are so many rails.”
Corning, Mack and Stassel get a chance at redemption at the Olympic debut of big air on Saturday, Feb. 24 (Friday night in Colorado) at the Alpensia Jumping Center. Mack, for one, is excited to test his “Bloody Dracula” trick, which has him spinning and grabbing his board with both hands behind his back. While certainly the best-named grab in snowboarding, it’s also one of the hardest.
“I’m really hoping to pull that trick out with a bigger spin,” said the ever-smiling 20-year-old. “It’s really unique to me and not many people do it, so just adding that kind of style and technicality to my run is something I like to do and it makes me stand out.”
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