Composite image by Bedel Saget and Jeremy White/The New York Times
PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — Red Gerard, a slight and mellow 17-year-old from Colorado, had just finished his third and final run of the men’s slopestyle finals when he found himself talking to one of his new fans at the front of the crowd.
It was an older man, named Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee, who had just arrived at the finish area of the course, ferried on a covered snowmobile.
“He was just like, ‘What were you thinking during all those spins?’” Gerard recounted minutes later. “And I was like, ‘I just wanted to land a run, that’s about it.’”
Gerard’s final try down the slopestyle course of obstacles and jumps earned him the gold medal, the first for the United States at these Winter Olympics. He is the youngest snowboarding gold medalist ever, and the country’s youngest male gold-medalist at the Winter Olympics since 1928.
It sent his enthusiastic army of friends and family into a happy tizzy. They held cardboard cutouts of Gerard’s young face and held signs that read things like, “We’re here to get Gerarded.”
Bedel Saget/The New York Times
“I’m pretty sure I saw a few of them shotgunning beers at 8:30 am.,” Gerard said, when asked what his family and friends thought. “I’m pretty sure they’re doing just fine.”
Gerard’s victory was a bit of an upset on a sunny but frigid and breezy morning at Phoenix Snow Park, where swirling winds threatened to push his 5-foot-5 frame around in the air as he performed high-flying tricks like a “switch backside 12” and a “front double 10 out of the side hit, into a backside double cork,” he detailed later, to a confused audience of reporters.
“Spins,” he said. “They’re just spins. A whole bunch of spins.”
Judges thought enough of them to reward his final run with 87.16 points, ahead of Max Parrot and Mark McMorris, two Canadians who finished with silver and bronze, respectively.
McMorris, the best slopestyle rider of the past five years, was just happy to be there. He broke a femur in a 2016 contest, then had a horrific backcountry accident last March near Whistler, British Columbia, that nearly killed him. He flew off a jump and crashed into a tree, fracturing his jaw, his pelvis and some ribs, shattering his arm, rupturing his spleen and collapsing a lung. He was airlifted and spent seven months recovering.
He had a chance to pass Gerard and Parrot on the final run but could not land a jump cleanly. Any disappointment over a third-place finish, the same that he had at the 2014 Sochi Games when he competed with a broken rib, was wiped away by the broader context.
“I need to pinch myself,” McMorris said. “I probably shouldn’t be here or should have some permanent damage from my what my accident entailed. I’m pretty stoked.”
Slopestyle, where the best of three runs is the only one that counts, is an event with two distinct sections. The upper portion is a terrain park, with rails to grind and small jumps to navigate. The bottom portion consists of three big jumps, each with an assortment of ramps to choose, that launch riders into acrobatic spins and flips and, in many cases, dramatic crashes.
Gerard is considered a creative rider not reverential to the conventional competition aspects of snowboarding. He was not unnerved when he stood atop the course after two disappointing runs, needing something close to perfect to get into medal contention, and chose a couple of risky options.
Kyle Mack, an American teammate and Gerard’s friend and roommate at the Olympics, called Gerard “calm and collected.” He was so relaxed, he said, that he worried that Gerard might sleep through the 10 a.m. start.
“I had to play a little bit of a dad figure and get him up in the morning,” said Mack, who is 20.
Gerard got the run he needed to win, completing the course with a mix of original lines and big tricks, all performed cleanly and rewarded by the panel of judges.
“I’m absolutely just mind-blown,” Gerard said. “I can’t believe everything worked out, and honestly I don’t think I’ve really had time to let it set in yet. I’m just so happy I got to land a run, and just to end up on the podium is awesome.”
Gregory Bull/Associated Press
Originally from the Cleveland area, Gerard’s family moved to the mountain town of Silverthorne, Colo., when he was in grade school. He spent time at Camp Woodward, a type of extreme-sport recreation center, and snowboarding at local ski resorts to hone his skills.
A few years ago, he said, his older brothers built a series of rails behind the family home, even adding a rope tow up the hill.
“It’s now a full-on rail setup,” he said. “It’s fun to have some friends over, have a little barbecue, hang out.”
All 12 snowboarders in the final struggled with the wind, and none navigated the course without a fall more than once in their three tries. They gauged the ever-shifting windsocks on each jump as they cruised up the ramp to launch themselves. Once airborne, they had to decide how many rotations they could manage and hope that they flew far enough to reach the steep downward slope of the landing, not the knuckle just before it.
“The wind was sometimes a tailwind, so you would go really far, and sometimes a front wind, so you would knuckle,” Parrot said. “It was pretty hard to deal with it.”
The women’s qualifiers, scheduled after the men’s final, was postponed because of concerns over wind.
Parrot acknowledged that he dialed back his final run, wanting something without any big bobbles to get him close to the podium. The strategy worked. But Gerard took a riskier approach, deciding to launch himself from one of the secondary ramps, a quarterpipe built on the side of the main ramp, for his second big trick.
“Just because it was a little different,” he explained, “and I try to be, like, a little bit different in my runs.”
He considered a safer approach, down the middle like everyone else, but not for long.
“I realized that my trick going straight over it isn’t as good,” he said. “I probably would have gotten a fourth or a fifth, and I might as well try to do good I’m here.”
Gerard nailed the trick, and with one more to go, thoughts raced through his mind.
“Just don’t blow it,” Gerard admitted to thinking. “Definitely in the air, I was, like, ‘Come on, let’s put it down here. Let’s not ruin it on the last jump.’”
He did not. With a perfect landing and a leading score, he was embraced by a waiting crowd that included his rambunctious family and the more-staid I.O.C. president, plus countless strangers and new fans who can all say that they were there when it happened.
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