Alex Hall made a shout when he dropped his last trick in the slope style course, and just before the judges gave him the winning score. This, he later said, was the best flow of his life.
“Oh, I’m excited,” he said. “I can not believe it came.”
Hall was one of three Americans looking forward to a medal stand at the men’s freestyle skiing slope style event.
Two of them did it: Hall won gold and Nick Cooper won silver, another at Sunny, Genting Snow Park below zero. Sweden’s Jasper Djider won the bronze.
In a competition that only counts a skier’s best score, Hall set the standard at the start with a score of 90.01 in the first of three runs. Everyone else tried to spend a cold morning, but no one did. Cooper scored 86.48 in his second run.
When the score pops up he says “OK.” “I’ll take it.”
Each of the Americans in the final came up with a very optimistic and exciting story. The 27-year-old Gopher wanted to finish the full rainbow of bronze medals in 2014 and silver in 2018. He battled alcoholism and depression, and spoke about his struggles after his 2018 performance in Pyongyang, South Korea.
In an interview last month, Koper said he was delighted Other Olympians are increasingly willing to discuss their mental health.
Colby Stevenson, 24, was involved in a car crash late on a rural road in Idaho in 2016. He spent days in a coma, but recovered to return to the world tour and win major events. At this Olympics, he won a silver medal in the big air and was a contender for another medal in the slope style.
Instead, he finished seventh without being able to land the run he had imagined clean.
“I gave everything I had,” he said after his last chance.
Day belongs to Hall. The 23-year-old was born in Alaska, but grew up mostly in Switzerland, and was the son of professors at the University of Zurich. He did not train until he was 16, when he was invited by the American Freesky team to train in Utah. At one time, he wanted to compete with his mother’s Italy.
That background, freed from the barriers of training and youth competitions, gave him a somewhat independent mindset.
He finished 16th in slopestyle at the 2018 Pyongyang Winter Olympics, when his career began. He won the World Cup that year and the X Games in 2019. He finished third at last year’s World Championships.
He is tall, over six feet tall, but often stands alone on the slopes for his original character.
Dave Euler, an American freesky coach, said of Hall in December, “You’ll find him making creative use of tubes and nose butter throughout the course and curriculum.” He’s a very creative lesson user.
The Olympics were the finale to the slope style course, a unique place – but only temporary, made of snow – designed as part of a large wall nearby. The combination of rails, obstacles and jumps created a lot of possibilities, but persecuted some of the best skiers and freeskiers in the world. Hall and Cooper liked it.
“Once you standardize this game, you’re going to kill it,” Gopher said. “So if you leave us the creativity and artistry, it’s going to keep this game fresh.”
That is why Hall was considered worthy of the Olympic champions. He has won big tournaments with dizzy spells, a relentless spin-to-win trend in both freestyle skiing and snowboarding, which worries purists.
But on Wednesday, Hall came up with a bag of technical tricks, hoping the judges would reward him for his originality rather than rotation.
Although it was actually a 900-degree rotation, it was only one of his last jumps, which he landed only twice before – half of the many tricks these days. As Hall described it, he spun one way in the air, stopped before landing and spun on the other.
That led to the scream.
“If I’m not happy doing it, there’s really no reason to do it,” Hall said. “So I can do this giving pleasure too.”
His smile was obscured by a mask, a symbol of the Olympics held during an epidemic. But his eyes shone beneath the frozen eyebrows. He was carrying an American flag on his shoulders and, soon, a gold medal around his neck.
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