As soon as Alex Hall completed his last trick on the slopestyle course, he let out a shout, and that was before the judges decided who would take home the gold medal. He subsequently said that it had been the finest run of his life.
“Oh, I was overjoyed,” he said. “I couldn’t believe I had just secured such a great deal.”
Hall was one of three Americans who hoped to saturate the medal stand in the men’s freestyle skiing slopestyle competition, hoping that a European-dominated field would not derail their aspirations.
Despite the fact that the temperature was below zero, Hall and Nick Goepper managed to win gold and silver respectively at Genting Snow Park on another bright and cold day. Jesper Tjader of Sweden took home the bronze medal.
As the first of three runs in a tournament where only the best score counts, Hall established the bar early with a 90.01 score on the first of three runs. Everyone else spent the chilly morning attempting to equal it, but no one was successful. Goepper came the closest, getting 86.48 points on his second attempt.
Each of the Americans competing in the final came in with great expectations and a compelling tale to tell. Goepper, 27, was aiming to complete a full rainbow of medals after winning a bronze in 2014 and a silver in 2018. He had previously won a bronze in 2014 and a silver in 2018. As a result of his 2018 performance in Pyeongchang, South Korea, and subsequent interviews, he has spoken up about his issues with alcoholism and despair.
Goepper said in an interview last month that he was encouraged that other Olympians are becoming more open about their mental health issues.
In 2016, Colby Stevenson, 24, was involved in a near-fatal vehicle accident on a remote road in Idaho, which occurred late at night. He was in a coma for several days before waking up and returning to the world circuit, where he won several major races. His performance at these Olympics resulted in a silver medal in big air, and he was also in contention for a gold medal in slopestyle.
Hall was the star of the show on this particular day. While the 23-year-old was born in Alaska, he spent the majority of his childhood in Switzerland, where he was the son of professors at the University of Zurich. He did not get formal coaching until he was 16 years old, when he was asked to practise with the United States freeski team in Utah. For a brief moment, he contemplated representing Italy, the country where his mother is from.
That upbringing, which was free of the limitations of coaching and young tournaments, imbued him with a certain amount of freedom and adventure.
During the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, he finished 16th in the slopestyle competition, just as his professional career was taking off. In that same year, he took home a World Cup victory, and he went on to win the X Games in 2019. Last year, he finished third in the global championships.
He is tall, standing well over six feet, yet he stands out on the slopes mostly because of his uniqueness.
The slopestyle course, which was a highlight venue — but only a temporary one, constructed of snow — that was supposed to look like a portion of the neighbouring Great Wall, made its last appearance at the Olympic competition. Its mix of rails, obstacles, and jumps opened up a variety of options, but it also aggravated some of the world’s top snowboarders and freeskiers due to the difficulty of the terrain. It was a hit with Hall and Goepper.
Going forward, Goepper believes that “as soon as you standardise this sport, you are going to destroy it.” As a result, if you can leave the originality and artistry to us, we will be able to keep this sport interesting.
It is for this reason that Hall was regarded as the most deserving of all Olympic victors. He has won major competitions by doing dizzying spins, a practise that is becoming more common in both freeskiing and snowboarding and which is causing concern among purists.
However, on Wednesday, Hall carried a bag of technical manoeuvres, anticipating that the judges would recognise his creativity rather than his ability to rotate.
His last leap was one that he has only attempted a few of times previously, despite the fact that it is just a 900-degree spin — less than half of the rotation required by many other stunts these days. As Hall recalled it, he spun one way in the air before coming to a halt and spinning the other way before touching the ground.
His grin was hidden under a mask, as was customary for an Olympic competition staged during a pandemic. His eyes, though, shone brightly behind his ice-frosted brows. In the beginning, he wore an American flag over his shoulders, and then, a gold medal, which he later removed.