Basalt teen Hanna Faulhaber qualifies through to Olympic halfpipe skiing final
The 17-year-old finishes 9th in qualifier in Olympic debut
Basalt’s Hanna Faulhaber made the most of her Winter Olympic debut on Thursday — or Wednesday night in Colorado — by qualifying through to the finals in the women’s halfpipe skiing contest, held in Zhangjiakou, about 110 miles from Beijing.
The 17-year-old, who grew up skiing with the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club, scored 84.25 on her first run of the two-run qualifier, good enough to finish ninth among the 20-women field. The top 12 advanced to finals, which are Friday in China and will begin at 6:30 p.m. Thursday in the Roaring Fork Valley.
“I’m on an all-time high right now. I can’t believe I’m here and just can’t believe this is actually happening,” Faulhaber said on the NBC Olympics television broadcast. “The relief to land my first run, it took so much pressure off. Even just this whole morning of practice I couldn’t wipe the smile off of my face. I was still in shock and still super, super happy and excited to go into finals.”
The American-born Eileen Gu, who represents her mother’s homeland of China in competition, easily led the qualifier, scoring 93.75 on her first run — which would have been good enough to advance to the finals in the lead — but upped it with a 95.50 on her second run. She entered the contest as the heavy favorite and did not disappoint.
The 18-year-old Gu, who is competing in her first Olympics, has already won big air gold and slopestyle silver so far in China. She’s looking to make history with a third medal in a single Winter Olympic Games, and despite her otherworldly scores in halfpipe qualifying seems to have plenty more in the tank.
“I’m not going all out either. I have a few more tricks that I would like to be able to have the opportunity to do,” Gu said when asked about her approach to qualifying. “Given that it’s the Olympics, I want to be consistent and do my best and land my own runs and ski for myself and all of that. I had to put a safety run down first, but there are some things I’m hoping to bring out if I have the opportunity.”
Canada’s Rachael Karker qualified second with 89.50 and Estonia’s Kelly Sildaru was third with 87.50. Both are Olympic rookies, with Karker having finished second behind Gu at the world championships last spring in Aspen.
Faulhaber finished second among the four American women who competed Thursday in the Olympic qualifier, despite overcoming some equipment issues at the beginning of the contest.
“I actually ended up breaking a boot right before my first run, and then on my first run I broke a binding,” she told The Associated Press. “So we’re hanging in there, but just glad to be here and glad to be able to put down two pretty good runs.”
California’s Brita Sigourney, the veteran of the U.S. group, scored 84.50 on her second run to finish a spot ahead of Faulhaber in eighth. Sigourney is in her third — and likely final — Olympics and is the reigning halfpipe bronze medalist from Pyeongchang.
“I never really have high expectations for myself. I don’t like to put that pressure on me,” said Sigourney, who took a rough tumble during warm-ups but managed to shake it off. “It’s hard to not let the nerves get the best of you, even at your third Olympics and at 32 years old when I’ve been doing this for over 10 years. But I’m just so happy and I’m really impressed with all of the girls skiing today.”
Fellow Californian Carly Margulies also snuck into finals, finishing 10th with 82.25 scored on her second run. The 24-year-old’s story is quite impressive considering she hadn’t competed in roughly two years, overcoming her seventh knee surgery back in December to make the U.S. squad for Beijing.
“I’m still in disbelief that I’m here after everything that’s happened. I’m so thankful. I don’t know, I’m speechless. It’s crazy,” Margulies said when asked what kept her going. “I’ve always been wondering that. But as soon as I landed my first run, I realized this is why I’m still doing this sport. This is so fun. I love this sport and everyone around me that I compete with are so nice. The community in this sport is kind of what keeps me going.”
Vermont’s Devin Logan was the lone U.S. skier who did not make the cut. The slopestyle silver medalist from the 2014 Sochi Games could do no better than a 71 on her first run and finished 13th, one spot out from making finals.
The rest of the finalists include Britain’s Zoe Atkin (fourth, 86.75); China’s Kexin Zhang (fifth, 86.50); Canada’s Cassie Sharpe, the reigning Olympic gold medalist (sixth, 86.25); China’s Fanghui Li (seventh, 84.75); Canada’s Amy Fraser (11th, 75.75); and Germany’s Sabrina Cakmakli (12th, 71.50).
Of note, the contest took place on Feb. 17 in China, which is the birthday of both Sildaru, who turned 20, and Logan, now 29.
The temperature was around minus-3 degrees Fahrenheit at the start of the competition, with a wind chill that made it feel like it was minus-13 degrees.
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