Krasnaya Polyana, Russia • The hug seemed to last forever.
Maddie Bowman and Brita Sigourney, best friends on the opposite side of the podium in the historic debut of their halfpipe skiing event at the Sochi Olympics, shared one last moment together Thursday night before Bowman was swept away on the magic carpet ride that awaits every gold medalist, having just seized the cherished reward that Sigourney could not at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park.
"She so funny," Sigourney said. "She said that she wanted me to win and she’s so proud of me. And I told her to shut up, because she deserves this more than anyone."
The 20-year-old Bowman, a South Lake Tahoe native who lives in Salt Lake City and attends Westminster College with Park City’s Sigourney, became the first women’s halfpipe skiing champion by putting together the two most dazzling runs of the night, and living up to her reputation as the pre-event favorite, by virtue of her back-to-back Winter X Games titles.
Her victory delivered yet another medal to Utah in the new freeskiing and snowboarding events here — Park City’s Sage Kotsenburg and Joss Christensen won gold in ski and snowboard slopestyle, respectively, while Park City’s Devin Logan took silver in ski slopestyle — and gave the U.S. victories in three of the four new freeski events.
And when her final score was posted, Bowman screamed with delight, knowing she was all but certain to make history on a night when athletes of all nations remembered pioneering freeskier Sarah Burke of Canada, killed by a training crash in Park City two years ago.
"I sure hope that I and everyone else made her proud," Bowman said, "because we would not be here without her."
Bowman unleashed a massive final run, spinning 900’s in both directions and throwing a switch 720 on her last hit in the pipe to finish it off. She scored an 89.0, best score to that point.
"I just wanted to do the best run that I could do," she said.
All that was left for Bowman was Sigourney and France’s Marie Martinod, the final skier of the night, a 29-year-old mother of a 4-year-old daughter who came back after five years out of the sport for the chance to compete in the Olympics.
Martinod had posted the second-best score of the first round, just one point behind Bowman, while Sigourney had the second-best score in qualifying.
Both were capable of overhauling her.
But Sigourney seated a landing of her "unnatural 540" — that’s a spin in the opposite direction of her natural comfort, a trick with which she’d been struggling — and fell short of bumping either Martinod, the eventual silver medalist, or bronze medalist Ayana Onozuka of Japan off the podium. She finished sixth.
"Going into my second run of finals at the Olympics knowing that all I have to do is land this one trick I’ve been struggling with was definitely kind of overwhelming," Sigourney said, "and I definitely tried not to think about it and ski like I know how to ski. But … maybe next time."
Moments later, Martinod came up short again, too, assuring gold for Bowman.
"I can’t believe it just happened," Bowman said. "I felt every emotion, and I’m so happy."
While Bowman was basking in victory, though, not only Sigourney but Salt Lake City resident Angeli VanLaanen had to walk away empty-handed.
The woman who took three years off from her sport to recover from Lyme disease that had gone undiagnosed for 14 years crashed on her first run of the finals — VanLaanen suffered bloody cuts to her nose and face — then sat on a landing and slid out of her second run to finish 11th.
"Still all smiles," she said. "It’s been an honor to be a part of tonight, a really special night for freeskiing and for women in sports, just remembering everyone who put so much into making this moment possible."
"I’m just grateful to be out here," she said.
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