Sunday, May 22, 2022

New Zealand win historic Olympic gold but wind postpones downhill

New Zealand win historic Olympic gold but wind postpones downhill

BEIJING (AFP) – "Super-proud" snowboarder Zoi Sadowski Synnott made history for New Zealand after winning their first ever Winter Olympics gold medal on Sunday but bad weather played havoc with the eagerly anticipated men's downhill skiing.

Seven golds were up for grabs on the second full day of competition in the Chinese capital, as the sports took centre stage after a build-up overshadowed by Covid and rights concerns.

Seven became six when the main event of the day, the men's downhill -one of the most closely watched events at the Winter Olympics -- was postponed because of gusty winds and will now take place on Monday instead.

Wind also caused the cancellation of Saturday's third and final training run, albeit after three racers had come down the "Rock" course in Yanqing, notably hot favourite Aleksander Aamodt Kilde of Norway.

There was no such trouble for the 20-year-old Sadowski Synnott, who held her nerve under brilliant blue skies to take the women's snowboard slopestyle title with the last run of the competition and make history.

"Honestly it's absolute disbelief but it probably means more to me to win New Zealand's first Winter Olympic gold," said Sadowski Synnott, who was born in Sydney and moved to New Zealand when she was six.

"It makes me super proud to be a Kiwi."

Sadowski Synnott, who spent Covid lockdown back in New Zealand jumping on a trampoline to help her aerial awareness, launched into a massive jump with her final trick to earn a winning score of 92.88.

She was mobbed at the finish by American Julia Marino, who was relegated into silver with 87.68, and bronze medallist Tess Coady of Australia.

New Zealand had previously won one silver and two bronze medals at the Winter Olympics -- including a third-place finish for Sadowski Synnott in the Big Air competition at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games.

Skating for grandma

Other golds on offer Sunday were in cross-country skiing, freestyle skiing, luge, ski jumping and speed skating.

Saturday had belonged to Norwegian cross-country skier Therese Johaug -- who missed the 2018 Games because of a doping suspension -after she won the first gold of the Games.

China also won their first gold in Beijing, the hosts' quartet emerging from the thrills and spills of the short track speed skating mixed relay on the event's chaotic debut.

In the figure skating team event, 15-year-old Russian Kamila Valieva topped the scores in the women's short programme to underline her status as a potential winner of the high-quality individual event next week.

"I'm skating for my grandmother who passed away so I think it was that feeling got me," she said, having performed to Kirill Richter's "In Memoriam".

The Games are taking place in a vast "closed loop" designed to thwart the coronavirus.

There have been more than 363 positive cases in the bubble since January 23, according to latest official figures, among them an unknown number of competitors.

The nearly 3,000 athletes are cocooned along with tens of thousands of volunteers, support staff and journalists and everyone inside the bubble must wear face masks and take daily Covid tests.

The United States has led a diplomatic boycott of some Western nations, but their athletes are still competing.