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Gu comes through with golden show in super pipe

United States' Alex Ferreira and China's Ailing Eileen Gu celebrate their respective wins in the FIS World Cup freeski halfpipe finals as well as both finishing first in the overall season competition in Calgary on Saturday, Feb. 17, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Dave Chidley

CALGARY — Thousands of people crammed onto the hill at WinSport’s Canada Olympic Park Saturday night to snap pictures and scream in support of Eileen Gu.

The superstar freestyle skier delivered for the Snow Rodeo faithful by capturing World Cup gold with a dazzling score of 97.0 on her last of three runs on the super pipe.

The San Francisco-born Gu, who competes for China, didn’t even need to put down her final run as she already had the victory locked up.

“Honestly, I think the core identify of this sport is self-betterment,” said the 20-year-old Gu. “It’s about self-expression and creativity, and it’s about being a little better than I was yesterday.

“I try to bring that into every contest I enter. I generally don’t take victory laps. I always try to do a little better and push a little bit harder just to show the audience what it’s all about and really just have fun.”

Zoe Atkin of Great Britain seized silver with a score of 92.00. Svea Irving of the United States took bronze at 90.25

Canadian Amy Fraser, 28, finished just off the podium in fourth with a score of 87.75, but she still ended the night on the Crystal Globe podium as No. 2 overall in the world this season behind only Gu.

Atkin finished third in the overall point race on the women’s side.

“Competing at home is nice,” said Fraser, who opened the World Cup season with a bronze medal at the 2022 Beijing Olympic venue. “It’s pretty nice to be here and sleep in my own bed.”

In spite of the many friends and family in attendance, Fraser had modest plans to celebrate.

“I’m going to go to bed,” she said. “I really haven’t had a good sleep. It’s been a long three days of competing. So, I’m going to shut my eyes.”

Gu, the Crystal Globe winner, pulled a white cowboy hat on over her Red Bull tuque and popped the cork on a celebratory bottle of champagne.

And the crowd roared.

“I’m so grateful to all my friends and supporters,” said Gu, who won two gold and one silver at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics. “I try to spread this sport to more people, especially young girls.”

In 2022, Gu’s Olympic title caused the Chinese social media platform Weibo to temporarily crash due to the magnitude of the online celebration.

“Seeing the demographic out here tonight, seeing the people cheering, seeing people get excited and, more than anything, hearing the stories of, 'I started skiing because of you,’ — I’m incredibly grateful,” Gu said.

Fraser is grateful for the massive contingent of Gu fans, even if they were louder Saturday than the quieter Canadian supporters.

“I love it for the sport,” Fraser said. “They’re just excited. I think it’s sick for the sport to have so many people out here. The more the merrier. I want more people than showed up here tonight.

“It’s awesome.”

Yan Gu, Eileen’s mom, gushed in appreciation for the turnout in support of her daughter.

“Thank you, Calgary,” she said as her daughter posed for pictures with adoring fans. “We love it here, and it’s incredible she’s doing what she is doing. But as a mom, I take care of the job of being worried.

“I worry for her, so she hopefully doesn’t have to be worried.”

On the men’s side, Alex Ferreira of the United States, won his fifth straight World Cup halfpipe gold Saturday with a score of 95.50. Finland’s Jon Sallinen captured silver with a score of 94.50. Seung Hun Le of South Korea dissolved in jubilant tears in the finish area after capturing bronze with a score of 94.00.

Calgary’s Brendan Mackay placed seventh with 89.00 points.

Ferreira captured the Crystal Globe as the overall season points leader. His American teammate Hunter Hess finished second. Sallinen finished the season ranked third overall.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 17, 2024.

Vicki Hall, The Canadian Press

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