Winter Olympics, China, 2022. By Jack Bantock, CNN. Zoi Sadowski-Synnott wasn’t even born when New Zealand ended its 40-year wait for a Winter Olympics medal in 1992. On Sunday, she soared through the air at Beijing’s Genting Snow Park to claim her country’s first ever gold at a Winter Games.
The 20-year-old put in a remarkable final run to claim the gold in the women’s snowboard slopestyle event, snatching victory from Team USA’s Julia Marino at the death.
Sadowski-Synnott had thrown down the gauntlet with a benchmark setting 84.51 on her first effort, but a disastrous second round opened the door for Marino to edge ahead with 87.68 heading into the third and final run.
It left the Kiwi requiring a near-flawless performance in the most pressurized of circumstances, and the 20-year-old delivered emphatically — a jaw-dropping final run rewarding her with a 92.88 score, over five points clear of Marino’s best attempt in second, and a historic gold medal.
“I tried to think last night what it would mean if I managed to land my run and come away with gold, and it feels unreal,” Sadowski-Synnott told reporters.
“I am super proud of where my snowboarding has come in the last few years and super proud to be Kiwi and show the world what Kiwis are made of.
“I really hope my performance here will inspire young kids and anyone to take up snowboarding because I reckon it’s the funnest sport ever.”
Having looked destined to crash as she hurtled towards the ground on that final jump, a miraculous landing following a stunning 1080 double cork was testament to the youngster’s fearlessness and strength of character. Four years ago Sadowski-Synnott won bronze in the big air event at the Pyeong Chang Games at the age of 16, making her New Zealand’s youngest ever female medalist.
“Julia [Marino] did an absolutely amazing run. I mustered up everything I had in me to pull off that last jump, and it came off.
“I knew I was going way too fast, and in the air, I was like, just do anything you can to just land.”
‘She’s so inspiring’
Sadowski-Synnott, Marino, and Australia’s Tess Coady — who won bronze — embraced when the results were announced, a memory that the Kiwi said she would “never forget.”
Sadowski-Synnott’s dramatic final landing meant Marino narrowly lost out on a first Olympic gold, but the 24-year-old American expressed nothing but admiration for her rival.
“She stomped her last trick on the last line,” Marino said. “She’s got the strongest legs ever because it sounds like she cracked the landing pretty much with that.
“She’s taking it to the next level doing these big tricks and other girls are like, ‘Wow, I think we can do that, too’. She’s so inspiring.”
‘This is insane’
Bronze medalist Coady took home Australia’s first medal of Beijing 2022, her podium finish sealing a perfect redemption arc for the 21-year-old after she tore her anterior cruciate ligament in the run-up to PyeongChang in 2018.
“This last four years has been so insane for me, but in the best possible way,” said Coady, who won a bronze at the World Championships in Aspen in 2021.
“It was so hard, being on the sidelines and watching everyone progress, but it got me so motivated to work hard and get back and get better and catch up to all the girls.”
“Seriously, [it means] the world. It means so much to me. I’m so incredibly grateful.”
Meanwhile Marino’s US compatriot Jamie Anderson, one of the sport’s most iconic figures and a two-time Olympic gold medalist, struggled to find her rhythm and the 31-year-old finished in ninth with a best score of 60.78 on her second attempt.