Basalt’s Faulhaber finishes sixth in first Winter Olympic halfpipe skiing final
China’s Eileen Gu easily won for her third medal of this Games
Hanna Faulhaber said she “just cracked” during training ahead of finals. The wind was making it difficult to get any speed through the halfpipe and the pressure of the Winter Olympics was starting to set in for the teenager from Basalt.
Nothing a pre-game joyride can’t fix. And the minor meltdown looked all but history by the time she officially dropped in for her first run Friday in China.
“The biggest mental battle that I’ve probably ever faced. I was crying all throughout practice, just really trying to find myself and find why I’m doing the sport and trying to have fun again and just took some time to myself and did a few fun laps,“ Faulhaber told reporters after the finals. “I put quite a bit of pressure on myself going in and just to be able to put something down in finals, it made me so happy and made me have fun again.”
Faulhaber eventually finished sixth in her first Winter Olympic appearance on Friday — or Thursday night in Colorado — behind a pair of strong runs, but could not keep up with China’s Eileen Gu, who cruised to women’s halfpipe skiing gold in Zhangjiakou, which is just over 100 miles from Beijing.
Faulhaber, the 17-year-old who grew up skiing with the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club and made her X Games debut only last month, briefly held down the top spot early in the first round behind an opening-run score of 85.25, which would prove to be her best result. She landed a solid, albeit almost identical, second run for 84.50 but fell midway through a promising third run that ended her podium hopes.
The fourth of the 12 finalists to drop in, Faulhaber held the lead until Canada’s Cassie Sharpe, the 2018 Olympic gold medalist from Pyeongchang, scored 89 as the seventh skier to take the lead. The top skiers, including Sharpe, had multiple 1080s in their runs, a trick Faulhaber doesn’t yet have in her arsenal.
Faulhaber did bring her soon-to-be trademarked amplitude, getting over 13 feet above the lip of the halfpipe despite the windy conditions, and successfully landed a 900, which is still relatively new to her, on her final hit of her first two runs. She also attempted the highly technical switch 720, a trick she hopes to make a regular part of her run in the future.
“We were able to lay down two good runs and also gave that switch 7 a shot,” Faulhaber said. “Really stoked to have given that a shot. Don’t think I would have been that happy if I didn’t leave everything out on the table. Just overall happy with how I skied.”
Gu’s win was historic for action-sports athletes, as it gave her three medals in the same Winter Olympics, the first to ever do so. The American-born star, who is only 18, also won gold in big air earlier in the month and took silver in slopestyle behind Switzerland’s Mathilde Gremaud.
“She’s really pushing the sport to a new level,” said Great Britain’s Zoe Atkin, who finished ninth, of Gu. “It’s really great to see and it’s so inspiring. It makes me want to be a better skier myself. I think she’s amazing for the sport.”
Sharpe, who had slight improvements on each run to finish with a best-run score of 90.75, won silver. Only a year ago, she severely hurt her knee, which put her entire Olympic season in doubt.
“It feels surreal at this point,” Sharpe said. “I can’t even put it into words. 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.”
Her fellow countrywoman, Rachael Karker, won Olympic bronze with 87.75, scored on her first run. This was Karker’s first time competing at the Games.
Kelly Sildaru was just off the podium in fourth place; she leaves her first Olympics with a bronze from slopestyle. The just-turned 20-year-old from Estonia won X Games Aspen gold only last month, a contest that did not include Gu, Sharpe or Karker. Faulhaber won bronze that day in her X Games debut.
Gu, who led Olympic qualifying, was the last to drop in and closed out the contest with an easy victory lap, not likely the last she’ll have of her career. She scored 93.25 on her first run, more than enough to win the contest then and there.
“I feel at peace. I feel grateful. I feel proud,” Gu said. “Skiing is all about fun and individuality and being able to express yourself and find that flow, and for myself I really find that in halfpipe. Being able to feel the rhythm of the walls, and being able to put unique grabs, to try different axis, spin different directions — it’s really fun and it’s the essence of the sport.”
Faulhaber was the top finisher among the Americans, much as she was when she finished fourth at the world championships last March in Aspen. Brita Sigourney finished 10th with 70.75 and her fellow Californian teammate Carly Margulies was 11th with 61.
The fourth member of the U.S. Olympic women’s halfpipe ski team, Devin Logan, did not make finals.
Faulhaber was already looking toward her second trip to the Olympics — the 2026 Winter Games will be held in northern Italy — and the steps she needs to take between now and then to get there and compete for a podium spot.
“Going into the next one I’m just going to obviously train my hardest,” she said. “Probably prepare a little better with getting new tricks in because I did a few things a little last minute, and just not trying to change up too many things at once. But, yeah, I feel good.”
The men’s halfpipe skiing finals, featuring Aspen’s Alex Ferreira, is 6:30 p.m. Friday night, Colorado time.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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