Enterprise

American Julia Marino wins silver in snowboard slopestyle – Press Enterprise

By EDDIE PELLS

ZHANGJIAKOU, China – She climbed “The Great Wall”. She navigated and dominated the toughest course she had ever ridden. But if Zoi Sadowski Synnott thought the worst was over once she crossed the Olympic finish line, she had more to come.

Specifically, New Zealand’s first Winter Games champion saw the silver and bronze medalists head straight for her.

After watching the race that knocked them down a notch on Sunday, American Julia Marino and Australian Tess Coady rushed in and took on the new Kiwi slopestyle champion in a pile of dogs on the snow. They were celebrating a day that women’s snowboarding had been waiting for four years.

“Pretty sick,” Sadowski Synnott said. “It was quite a special competition, especially after the last Olympics where we had quite difficult conditions.”

There was nothing easy about the Secret Garden Olympic Slopestyle course, an aesthetic masterpiece with a jeweled replica of the Great Wall all along the oversized layout.

But four years ago in Pyeongchang, women’s snowboarding suffered a black eye. Forced to compete in windy conditions that had sent alpine skiers home to another part of the mountain, American Jamie Anderson won a contest in which 51 of 60 runs ended with a rider on his back, or exiting slowly from the course, unable to navigate the changing gusts.

Percentages weren’t all that much better on Sunday – in the three-run final, 25 of 36 runs were aborted or watered down, largely due to the rock-hard snowpack and angled swings towards the kickers.

“We had never really seen a course like this before,” Marino said.

The difference, however, was how the top of the pack rose to the challenge.

Where Anderson, through no fault of his own, won the 2018 contest with tricks that dated back more than a decade earlier, Sadowski Synnott won on Sunday with the toughest suit in the sport – a race designed for 2022.

Trailing Marino as she headed into the final round of the contest, she landed back-to-back double cork 1080s. It’s a combo she used two weekends ago to win a gold medal at the Winter X Games. Before that, no woman had ever won it in a competition.

“The greatest race of my life,” Sadowski Synnott said of his repeated performance on a sunny day when the wind chill dropped to minus-13 degrees Fahrenheit (minus-25 Celsius).

Anderson finished ninth and did not cross any of his three-pointers unscathed. The road to the Olympics was a tough one for the champion, including a break-in to her car, out-of-this-world competitions and a general feeling that she just wasn’t feeling it.

But she, like everyone on the mountain, knew what this competition meant.

“I’m really happy for Zoi and Tess and just to see where and how far snowboarding has come for girls,” Anderson, 31, said. “Even though I was a bit of that inspiration to some of the younger girls, I feel so proud and so grateful.”

Everyone was, even the second.

Before that, 24-year-old Marino’s greatest days in snowboarding came when she won the Winter X Games in 2017 – and when she won a big air World Cup title on scaffolding built at Fenway Park in 2016.

On Sunday, she tied a backside 900 to a pair of double corks in her second run and jumped into first place. She remained there for the next 45 minutes.

Marino was downstairs waiting for Sadowski Synnott to leave one last time, and she saw what everyone did: a risky run with well-positioned midfield holds and solid landings. Sadowski Synnott threw both hands up after the last one. There was no need to wait for the scoreboard, which eventually registered 92.88 points and a “1” next to its name.

“I was so happy, I just went over there and blamed her,” Marino said. “She stomped on that to the last line. She has the strongest legs ever, I think, because she looked like she had “cracked” the landing. I was just overwhelmed with happiness for the three of us.

Coady added: “It felt like nobody had done anything for four years the last time. So it was pretty cool to show everyone how far we’ve come.

The performance was something of a gift for Sadowski Synnott’s sport, but also a gift for New Zealand.

It’s rugged land where rugby and the All Blacks rule, but there’s also a wintry world that beckons those willing to put in the effort. It has long been a training base for runners from the northern hemisphere who need to work in June, July and August.

So yes, there is snow, half pipes and hill stations. And now a gold medal too.

“Absolute disbelief,” Sadowski Synnott said. “It probably means more to me to win New Zealand’s first winter gold.”