After falling on his first run of the qualifying round, David Wise had to play it safe and use a very mellow run to get himself into the final.
After falling on his first two runs of the final, there was no playing it safe for the defending gold medalist.
Wise stuck to the game plan and landed the run he wanted — a run that featured double corks spun in four different directions — on his third and final attempt. It vaulted him into the lead with a score of 97.20 and earned him his second consecutive Olympic gold medal.
One factor that judges use to evaluate halfpipe runs is variety, and one of the best way for skiers to show variety is by spinning tricks in all four directions — left, right, switch left and switch right. Last month at X Games, Wise became the first skier to land double corks in each of those four directions in one halfpipe run. It was a feat he repeated in PyeongChang.
"I'm honestly just in disbelief right now," Wise said afterward. "Winning, losing, whatever, just the fact that I landed that run in the moment when it needed to happen, on that that third run, just felt so good."
Wise was only in that position because he had an equipment malfunction on both of his first two runs. On both attempts, he came out of his ski mid-run.
"Walking out of my ski is not something I have control over. I can't say 'I made a mistake, my ski came off.' My ski just came off," he said. "So I believe it happens for a reason. I said 'OK, if God wants me to do well in this event, then I'm going to be able to land this run. If he doesn't, it's all good, I'm moving on.' So I dropped in and did the run that I knew how to do."
Coming into the halfpipe final, much of the talk centered on a possible U.S. medal sweep. So it's not surprise that Wise was joined on the podium by one compatriot, Alex Ferreira.
Ferreira was easily the day's most consistent skier. He landed three runs that all scored in the 90s, and he improved his score with each successive run. On his final attempt, he really cranked up the amplitude, at one point boosting himself more than 20 feet out of the halfpipe.
The judges had quite an unenviable task trying to weigh Ferreira's amplitude against Wise's technicality, but in the end, they gave the edge to Wise — just narrowly though. Ferreira ended up with the silver medal.
His runs left an impression on Wise though.
"Today was just an amazing day of halfpipe skiing," Wise said. "Seeing Alex land his runs, all three runs, just inspired me."
As for the other U.S. skiers, Torin Yater-Wallace went massive but was unable to land a full run, and Aaron Blunck's best runs didn't seem to be clean enough to appease the judges.
But even had those two put down their very best runs, they would have still had competition for a spot on the podium from New Zealand's Nico Porteous.
Porteous, who is just 16 years old, went absolutely bonkers on his second halfpipe run. He started off with a double cork 1440 and continued to land a solid sequence of tricks that included back-to-back double cork 1260s.
That run earned Porteous a huge score (94.80) and temporarily put him into the lead — a development that shocked the young skier himself. When the score came in, he just dropped his skis and gasped.
"I was vomiting at the top of the course with nerves [before that run]," Porteous said. "I had a lot of help from my sport psychologist, he's an absolute legend."
Knowing that he had just put down the run of his life, Porteous didn't even try to improve on it when it came time to take his third run — even though he had been bumped from the lead by then. Instead he decided to have some fun and just casually carve his way down the halfpipe. From there he waited in the corral to see if his score would hold up for a medal. (It did.)
Entering the day, New Zealand had just one Winter Olympic medal all-time. But in the span of about two hours, snowboarder Zoi Sadowski-Synnott (also a 16-year-old) won bronze in big air and Porteous won bronze in ski halfpipe. When New Zealand last won a Winter Olympic medal in 1992, neither athlete had even been born yet.
After the event, the young Kiwi was still in disbelief.
"I've only had about 30 minutes to think about it," he said. "I'm pretty confused about what's going on. I just can't believe it."
Even without a podium sweep, Wise and Ferreira still managed to make a little bit of history. Prior to the men's halfpipe contest, the United States had a total of 299 all-time Winter Olympic medals (with No. 299 being won by snowboarder Jamie Anderson earlier in the day). By finishing 1-2 in halfpipe, Wise and Ferreira were able to help Team USA surpass 300 total medals.
Videos of some of the top runs can be found further below.
Gold: David Wise (USA), 97.20
Silver: Alex Ferreira (USA), 96.40
Bronze: Nico Porteous (NZL), 94.80
4. Beau-James Wells (NZL), 91.60
5. Noah Bowman (CAN), 89.40
6. Mike Riddle (CAN), 85.40
7. Aaron Blunck (USA), 84.80
8. Andreas Gohl (AUT), 68.80
9. Torin Yater-Wallace (USA), 65.20
10. Thomas Krief (FRA), 9.80
11. Kevin Rolland (FRA), 6.40
12. Byron Wells (NZL), DNS
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