Eileen Gu straight-aired a victory lap in the women's freeski halfpipe final on Friday with tears of joy, wrapping up a purely dominant performance at the 2022 Winter Olympics by claiming her second gold and third medal of the Games.
The 18-year-old from San Francisco flexed on her second run with a near-perfect combination of tricks and outstanding amplitude, reaching nearly 14 feet above the 22-foot superpipe on an opening rightside cork 900 Buick grab before hitting back-to-back alley-oop flat spins to close for a 95.25.
"It has been two straight weeks of the most intense highs and lows I've ever experienced in my life," Gu said. "It has changed my life forever. The second I landed the last 16 in big air I knew my life was never going to be the same … never imagined that I'd walk away with another silver and another gold."
The reigning world champion won last week's debut of big air at the Games, then followed up Tuesday with silver in slopestyle behind Mathilde Gremaud of Switzerland. Friday's halfpipe gold made Gu the first to win three medals in freestyle skiing at a single Games, and mirrored her results from the 2020 Youth Olympics.
"I've never taken a victory lap before. I'm always saying, 'I want to push harder, I want to show that I can do more,'" Gu said. "I felt like for the first time I really deserved it, and I really earned it. It was just this great period, punctuation on this amazing journey up until this Olympics."
Gu, who speaks fluent Mandarin, captured the event's overall World Cup crystal globe last month after an undefeated season, with wins at the Copper Grand Prix, back-to-back Calgary Snow Rodeo contests and the Mammoth Grand Prix.
Two Canadians took silver and bronze: 2018 Olympic gold medalist Cassie Sharpe with a 90.75, returning from a 2021 ACL injury, and Rachael Karker with an 87.75, runner-up to Gu at the 2021 World Championships.
Sharpe said exactly a year ago she underwent knee surgery, during which her femur was fractured, and only made it back on the snow less than four months ago.
"It feels surreal at this point. I can't even put it into words," she said. "I've been through hell and back the last year, so I'm just so grateful that all the pieces that I've worked so hard on came together today."
What's next? "I'm going to get married, have a baby, get a dog, do all the life things," Sharpe said.
Americans Hanna Faulhaber, Brita Sigourney and Carly Margulies finished sixth, 10th and 11th.
Faulhaber, 17, opened her first run with a huge straight air that reached 13 feet above the deck, and despite heavy wind gusts, maintained an average amplitude of 8 feet throughout with flair rotations and a 900 to close for an 85.25.
"Practice was really tough, probably the biggest mental battle I've ever faced," Faulhaber said. "I was crying all throughout practice, just trying to find myself and trying to find why I'm doing this sport and trying to have fun again."
It was a less fortunate start for Margulies, whose first run ended when the heel piece of her left binding completely detached from the ski, and with a different pair on for Run 2 bailed early after uncomfortableness in the air. The Californian managed to get down a third run but only scored a 61.00.
Sigourney, the bronze medalist in PyeongChang, put down a beautiful leftside 900 tailgrab to start her first run, hit 11 feet on an alley-oop and transitioned into a 720 before falling slightly off her line through the middle and mustering a 70.75.
"My body's really sore. I've taken a couple of slams this week and I'm looking forward to recovering and going home and soaking this whole experience in," she said.
The 32-year-old said she originally planned for these Games, her third, to be her last competition, but has since made other plans to include the people closest to her.
"I decided earlier this winter that I don't want to retire at an event where my family and friends can't be," Sigourney said. "So I would love to do another X Games and maybe a couple of Grand Prix next year."