U.S. freeskier Alex Hall threw down a super-progressive run on Wednesday to capture slopestyle gold at the 2022 Winter Olympics, redeeming an unfortunate eighth-place result in last week's big air final. Teammate Nick Goepper repeated his silver from PyeongChang for a third career Winter Games medal.
Alaska-born Hall, 23, opened up his winning run with a technical top section, tail-tapping a Section 3 rail with a 900-out before busting out a leftside double cork 1620 and a switch 720 to switch nosebutter 540 off "The Matrix" knuckle. On the final hit, he unleashed a rightside double 1080 pretzel 180 to score a 90.01, which ultimately held for the victory.
"It definitely was the best slopestyle run I've ever done, mainly because it embodied everything I love about skiing and how I approach skiing and I didn't fade away from that to try and maybe get bigger scores or something," Hall said. "I just kept it true to myself, and I think that's the most important part about our sport is just doing it for the love."
Hall's incredible maneuver on the last jump of Run 1, the right double 10 pretzel one, involves pulling back or "rewinding" a 1080 rotation into a 900 just before landing – the mid-air equivalent of what's typically a rail trick, whereby a skier spins out the opposite direction of how they came in to begin the slide.
"I learned that this fall and I've been doing it a little bit but it's still a really, really hard trick," Hall said. "I wasn't sure if I was going to be able to do it and ended up doing one in practice and then coming into that last jump … I was just trying to think, 'Stay calm and do everything you can to bring it back to 900,' and I'm glad it worked out."
Goepper, who also took slopestyle bronze in Sochi, recorded an 86.48 on an insane second run. The four-time X Games Aspen champion tossed a switch 450-on to the first rail, went blindside 630-off the "Shred Shed," then on the bottom jumps pulled off a switch double bio 1260, a rightside double cork 1440 off "The Matrix" side takeoff and a left double 14.
"Life is good, I'm super grateful for everything that's happened in the last couple of years. Life's a roller coaster but to get another medal out of another Olympics it's just a cool thing," he said. "If you told me as a 16-year-old that this is what would be happening right now, I would tell you that you were crazy."
A native of Indiana, the 27-year-old's been through a lot since bursting onto the scene in 2011 with a third-place finish at Dew Tour Killington. After his 2014 bronze, he struggled with depression and heavy drinking, and subsequently entered rehab. He got back on track and made it back to the Olympics in 2018 to claim silver.
"I wish I had a magic answer [to my longevity], but first of all, you've got to love it. And in times that you don't love it, you've got to know that you're eventually going to love it. Because that's how you keep putting the work in, but it's just continually grinding," he said. "We grind on the rails, but you've got to grind all the time."
The American duo's one-two result matches their finish at last month's Mammoth Grand Prix, where Hall defeated Goepper by three-quarters of a point on the competition's final run.
Reigning world and X Games champion Andri Ragettli fell short on a final-run attempt, missing the podium in fourth. The 23-year-old from Switzerland, seventh in PyeongChang, tore his ACL in big air at the 2021 World Championships. After nearly a year of recovery, he returned last month to win France's Font Romeu World Cup.
"It’s been really hard, but of course, fourth place, there is a disappointment. But I’m still proud about myself," Ragettli said. "I still need to watch the whole competition to get an overview [of my runs], but it was still a good run, I think."
Sweden's Jesper Tjader earned bronze at his third Olympics with an 85.35, drastically improving on his 24th- and 23rd-place finishes from the Sochi 2014 and PyeongChang 2018. Tjader took eighth at the Stubai World Cup and 11th at Mammoth this season.
"I’ve never done that switch triple on the second jump in a slopestyle run, so that was the first time I’ve done it in a run," Tjader said. "Then, with the double-16 Japan at the end, I just learned that this week. A lot of pieces came together today. It just worked out."
Hall and Goepper's compatriot Colby Stevenson, already a silver medalist in big air, finished seventh. The 2021 world runner-up to Ragettli had a superb first run, styling out on the third rail with some nosebutter before stomping a switch double 14 at the bottom, but had errors on the first two rails and the judges docked his score, which resulted in a 77.41.
Stevenson struggled to better the mark on Runs 2 and 3, encountering trouble both times on Section 2. Born in New Hampshire, the 24-year-old won last season's Aspen Grand Prix, the first of several U.S. Olympic qualifying events held in the leadup to the Games.
"I am so happy to show my stuff on the world stage and ski the way that I did," Stevenson said. "It wasn’t exactly what I wanted today, but that’s how it goes, man, when you’re laying it all on the line. Give it your best and make sure to have fun. You don’t want to get too upset if you don’t do well. We’re living it."
Hall was born in Fairbanks, Alaska, and grew up in Zurich, Switzerland, where most of his family still lives now. He moved back to the U.S. at 16 to join the U.S. Ski & Snowboard training academy in Park City, Utah, adjacent to his father's hometown of Salt Lake City. He speaks both German and Swiss-German, learned while growing up in Zurich, and often serves as a team translator when traveling. He lived out of his car for about 70 days in 2020, surfing the California coast all summer.
The gold is Team USA's eighth of the Games, one shy of the nine it has won at each of the last four – PyeongChang, Sochi, Vancouver, Torino – and two off its record 10 earned at the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics. The one-two finish also gives the U.S. six medals in freestyle skiing, making it the nation's most successful sport thus far at these Games.
NBC Olympics Research contributed