Aussie freestyle skiers excel to new heights at PyeongChang
24 February 2018
FREESTYLE SKI: Milestones and more were par for the course for Australia’s freestyle skiing athletes at the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games.
Sixteen Australians were in action across aerials, moguls, ski cross and ski slopestyle, and the Aussies were setting records before stepping on the snow.
Aerials Olympic gold medallist Lydia Lassila became the first woman to compete at five Winter Olympic Games, the achievement followed two Winter Olympic Games where she claimed medals, becoming Olympic Champion in 2010 before she won bronze at Sochi 2014.
In Moguls, the 2018 Games marked the first time Australia had four men and four women at an Olympics. In doing so, Australia and Canada were the only nations to have full representation at the Moguls competition.
Moguls athletes got Australia’s 2018 Olympic Winter Games campaign underway and the women were up first. On Olympic debut, 19-year-old Jakara Anthony was exceptional as she claimed fourth in the super final. Three-time Olympian Britt Cox was fifth.
“The whole thing’s been a massive learning experience for me and I’ll definitely be taking all the experience that I had here going into Beijing 2022," Anthony said.
Madii Himbury progressed from the second qualification round and finished 20th, while fellow debutant Claudia Gueli finished 23rd.
A day later and in the men’s moguls, Matt Graham put Australia on the medal tally with a stunning silver medal winning performance. Graham was consistently consistent through qualifying and finals, and put down one of the best runs of his life to finish second behind Canada’s Mikael Kingsbury.
"It was amazing putting down that final run which was my best run of the night. I knew when I saw the score I was going to be on the podium,” Graham said.
Olympic rookie James Matheson finished 14th while teammate Rohan Chapman-Davies finished 22nd. Having flared up his ACL injury during training, Summers chose not to risk further injury and did not line up for the event.
"Wasn’t an easy decision that’s for sure,” Summers said.
“Definitely emotional. As soon as I made the call everybody in my team told me ‘you’ve made a smart decision and you’ve reduced your risk for getting yourself right for world championships next year.’”
At the Aerials, all eyes were on five-time Olympian Lydia Lassila and her final Olympics performance.
The 36-year-old narrowly missed the final and finished 14th.
"This is an outside sport and you can't control a lot of things and tonight I just couldn't control the speed," Lassila said.
With an Olympic career spanning nearly two decades, Lassila said she was disappointed with her final Winter Games performance.
"It's a feeling of loss in a way ... you've lost an opportunity but that's sport and you've got to reflect on the good and happy moments that I've had with my kids, my family, my friends -- life is good," she said.
Results were mixed in the women’s event, with Laura Peel and Danielle Scott advancing to the finals and Samantha Wells exiting at the qualifying round, finishing in 17th place.
In the Super Final, Peel attempted a Back Double Full-Full where she over-rotated and then back-slapped on her landing. She finished fifth.
“My goal was to make the top six, the Super Final, and I did that,” Peel said.
“We did our best out there. I had a huge group of supporters in the crowd so I was definitely feeling the love.”
Needing to be in the top nine to progress from Final 1 to Final 2, Scott backslapped while attempting a Back Full-Full to finish the competition in 12th.
In the men’s event, David Morris secured a start in the final after finishing the second qualification round in second place.
He performed a Back Full – Double Full – Full, to claim 10th overall.
Morris was pleased with the jump he put down but the field produced high scoring jumps. The leader, Guangpu Qi of China was awarded 127.44 for his execution of the same trick.
“We tried our best, it is what it is. Tenth is a pretty sweet result and I’m happy with that,” Morris said.
“We’re in an Olympic final so that’s awesome and this competition is top class so even to be here is quite the privilege.”
In the days leading into the men’s ski slopestyle, dual Olympian Russ Henshaw struggled to walk up stairs, but that didn’t stop the 27-year old from putting down two solid runs.
Having injured his knee less than a month ago, Henshaw said he was happy just to make it to the start gate.
He finished 19th in qualifying, putting him out of contention for a place in the final.
“Just being in that start gate about to drop, to get there after all I’ve been through over the last two weeks was a surreal feeling in itself,” Henshaw said.
There were mixed results at the Ski Cross after Anton Grimus fractured his collarbone and Sami Kennedy-Sim advanced to the small final and finished eighth overall.
27-year-old Grimus suffered a crash during his seeding run and went into the finals with a sore shoulder. He went on to finish fourth in his round of eight heat.
Dual Olympian Sami Kennedy-Sim recorded her best result of the 2017/18 season.
"That was a solid battle and it's a step up for me and the best result that I've had all season," Kennedy-Sim said.
"To be one of the top girls in the world, that's sick and I hope that I can get other kids to come and have a crack, it's super fun!"