The NZ anthem has rung out at a Winter Olympics for the first time in 70 years, after Zoi Sadowksi-Synnott’s breathtaking final run in the snowboard slopestyle clinched her gold – the highlight in our rundown of the Kiwi women on the first two days of the Beijing Winter Olympics.
Almost speechless. Pretty emotional. And then tears.
Zoi Sadowski-Synnott rushed through a range of emotions quicker than her incredible final run on the Secret Garden Olympic slopestyle at Genting Snow Park – the run that secured New Zealand’s first ever Winter Olympic gold medal.
The 20-year-old from Wānaka left it till the very last second of the snowboard slopestyle, sitting in second place as she dropped into her last run of three; the last competitor of the final.
But she pulled out an incredibly confident run under the intense pressure she thrives in – with back-to-back double cork 1080 tricks to finish. It thrust Sadowski-Synnott to the top of the podium – climbing two steps higher than with the big air bronze she won in Pyeongchang as a fresh-faced 16-year-old.
Seconds after she lifted herself off the snow, from a run scoring a massive 92.88 putting her five points clear in the gold medal spot, her closest competitors – American silver medallist Julia Marino and bronze medallist Australian Tess Coady – piled on top of her in celebration.
Back on her feet, in a minus 20 degrees Celcius chill, the Kiwi struggled to find words before telling Sky Sport she was in “complete disbelief”.
“It’s an indescribable feeling, but I just knew that I had to put it down, and I knew I was capable of it. It took everything in me to try to land that last jump,” Sadowski-Synnott said.
“Honestly, it’s not over until it’s over, and I was super lucky by qualifying in first so that I could drop last. But everyone out there today had a chance.”
When asked what it felt like to be the first Kiwi in 70 years to win Winter Olympic gold – and go one better than Annelise Coberger’s silver in the slalom at Albertville in 1992 – Sadowski-Synnott’s voice began to break up.
“Honestly, it makes me pretty emotional, just super proud”. And then came the tears.
Back in Wānaka, her parents were just as emotional; her mum, Robin, barely able to speak. “Overwhelmed,” she said. “So happy for her.”
No longer the underdog, Sadowski-Synnott came into these Olympics with a name and reputation.
Medal predictions from the Associated Press before the Beijing Games tipped Sadowski-Synnott to snag a silver, behind Japan’s Kokomo Murase, but ahead of American Jamie Anderson.
Anderson was undefeated in the Winter Olympic slopestyle, winning gold both times the event has been competed at the Olympic Games, but 2022 saw a new name on top for the first time. Only able to get one clean run, Anderson ended in ninth, with Murase behind her in 10th.
Sadowski-Synnott won gold in the most recent X Games in January, so firmly held a favourite tag heading in. So it wasn’t a surprise she was the top qualifier for the 12-competitor final, with her second run on Saturday scoring 86.75.
After shaky starts from some of the favourites, a clean run boosted Sadowski-Synnott to the top of the table after her first run, scoring 84.51, almost two points clear of Coady. Marino took over first place with her second run of 87.68, and a fall on a landing from Sadowski-Synnott meant the Kiwi had no chance to reclaim her top spot at her second attempt.
But no other competitor came close on their third run, meaning it all came down to the final effort of the young woman from Wanaka.
Sadowski-Synnott’s efforts in Beijing aren’t over though, with a decent rest before going for gold again in the big air on Tuesday 14.
Kiwi freestyle skier Anna Willcox, a Winter Olympian in 2014, said she had watched Sadowski-Synnott grow and mature as an athlete.
“She would have been 11 years old when [the event debuted at the Sochi Games], and she was still such a young rider but also I’ve watched her build and build and build,” she said. “You talk about the iceberg in sport, the amount of work that goes in under the surface and that she puts in as well. She comes across so light-hearted and humble, which of course she is, but she’s such a fierce competitor and so hard on herself and it’s just so awesome to see it all pay off and to do it in such fashion.”
Quote of the day
“That was a crazy moment and it just shows how special snowboarding is, you cheer more when your friends do well than yourself. And that’s why I love it,” Sadowski-Synnott on the ‘podium pile-up’ after she clinched gold.
Images of the day
The first gold medal of the 2022 Games went to Norway’s Therese Johaug in the women’s skiathlon – a 15km race that switches between the classic technique and freestyle technique skiing.
The good news
We’ve made it onto the 2022 Winter Olympics medal table on day two – Sadowski-Synnott’s gold medal puts New Zealand tied for third, only behind Norway and Slovenia. Our tiny island nation is tied with host nation China, and the Netherlands and Sweden.
All of New Zealand’s contingent are Covid-free and able to train. Reports have come out of Beijing about poor conditions in their quarantine hotels, but our Aotearoa athletes are training safely, (including one athlete who tested positive but has since recovered).
The not-so-good news
Cool Wakushima has been forced to turn her focus to the big air. The 19-year-old injured her tailbone in practice for the slopestyle on Friday, but was still determined to compete in the qualification event on Saturday alongside Sadowski-Synnott.
After a fall in her first run, Wakushima decided not to drop into the second run; her score of 34.46 enough for 23rd, with only 12 competitors reaching the final.
Who’s up next
It’s a busy day for the Kiwis on Monday, with four other athletes starting their Beijing campaigns.
Margaux Hackett will be the first in action, her freestyle skiing big air event starting at 2.30pm.
Another chance for a medal will come with Alice Robinson, the alpine skier competing in the giant slalom. Her first run will be at 3.15pm, with the second at 6.45pm, determining who will stand on the podium.
It’s a double dose of big air for the Kiwis, with Finn Bilous and Ben Barclay skiing in the men’s event starting at 6.30pm.