ZHANGJIAKOU, China — The United States captured a pair of medals in men’s freestyle skiing halfpipe on Saturday, seemingly defying gravity as much as Hebei Province’s punishing, snow-and-wind-blown conditions would allow.
Saturday’s master of the slope, Nico Porteous of New Zealand, won the gold medal with his first run, when he scored a 93. David Wise, who had won the event’s past two golds, also found his first run to be his best: a 90.75, good for silver at these Games. With an 86.75 on his first run on Saturday, Alex Ferreira, who won the silver in halfpipe at the 2018 Games, earned the bronze.
There were plenty of dazzling tricks — Porteous landed five, including back-to-back ones with four and a half rotations, during the run that gave him Saturday’s top spot — but organizers officially reported the air temperature as minus 12 Fahrenheit, and persistently tough winds led many of the skiers to curb their ambitions.
“People were getting blown onto the deck, and even when the wind wasn’t blowing people like onto the deck or in the middle, it was just there,” said Gus Kenworthy, who competed for Britain and finished eighth, eight years after earning a silver medal in Sochi. “It was spiraling in the middle, so it was really killing amplitude. People had to strip their runs back so much.”
More than half of the 12-man field, including Porteous and Wise, had at least one run on Saturday that yielded only a single-digit score.
“The guys that are in the top three right now had insane runs, but those are not the runs they wanted to do,” Kenworthy said. “I know that most of the field really downgraded just to try to put one down.”
Wise appeared a bit awed by how Porteous had navigated the treachery of the freestyle skiing finale of the Beijing Games, which will end on Sunday.
“He pretty much did the run he wanted to in spite of the wind,” he said, “whereas Alex and myself, we scaled back a little bit and landed a run we thought we’d do well on this day.”
But Porteous acknowledged the day’s perils, even as he reveled in a gold medal four years after he took bronze at the Games.
“I stomped what I knew and tried my best and left everything out there,” he said.
He added, though: “It’s so freezing cold right now, I’m lost for words.”
When the Jamaican four-man bobsled team made their Olympic debut in 1988, the story went on to inspire the much adored Disney film “Cool Runnings” — and the unlikely underdogs from Jamaica helped familiarize the unique sport for the masses.
And Saturday, for the first time since the 1998 Winter Games, Jamaica has a four-man bobsled team in the Olympics. Their sled will be piloted by Shanwayne Stephens, with Rolando Reid, Ashley Watson and Matthew Wekpe as the push athletes.
“I think it’s everybody’s dream to represent their country, and we’re here doing it, living it and breathing it,” Stephens said earlier this week after competing in the two-man bobsled event.
Jamaica is one of 28 teams competing in the four-man bobsled competition on Saturday. The top teams move forward to the finals on Sunday.
Competing may be the big win for Jamaica, which is ranked last after the first two heats Saturday. Germany leads, with teams in the first and second spots.
In some ways, the Jamaican team is leaning in to the movie’s narrative. For one, Wekpe carries a plastic egg with him, as did the movie’s fictional brakeman, Sanka Coffie.
But they also want to tell their own story. In fact, the team recorded a song to spread its message: “We’re not just a movie,” the lyrics begin.
In an interview on the Olympics website, Stephens said that, “We want to show we’re actually fierce competitors, and we’re out there to put on a really good performance at the Games.”
Reid is from Jamaica and ran track at Morgan State University, a historically Black college in Maryland. His journey in bobsledding began in 2019, after his brother expressed interest in the sport.
To help prepare for the Games, Reid returned to his alma mater to train with the track team. In an interview with The Baltimore Sun, the former track and field star said he only started learning how to run on ice in September.
Reid is not the only teammate new to the sport. Wekpe, who has represented Jamaica on the international stage in rugby, began training with the bobsled team just one year ago, amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Stephens, the pilot, and Watson, one of the pushers, bring the most experience to the Jamaican team. Watson, who is from Peterborough, England, first started sledding in 2013, but took a hiatus before recently returning to the sport. Stephens, who was born in Jamaica but grew up in Britain, began sledding in 2015 after he joined the Royal Air Force.
Stephens made headlines early in the pandemic when it was revealed that his training program during lockdown involved pushing his fiancé’s car around Peterborough. (In recounting his regimen to Queen Elizabeth II during a video call, Stephens elicited a chuckle from Her Majesty, who added, “Well, I suppose that’s one way to train.”)
The historical importance of Jamaica’s 2022 bobsledding story doesn’t end there. The nation also has a team in the two-man bobsled event and a female athlete in the monobob competition, an individual sledding event that made its Olympic debut, making this the first time the country has qualified for three bobsledding events in a single Olympics.
Mikaela Shiffrin came into these Games with the goal of competing in five events. She did so, though she fell short of her larger ambitions, failing to finish three races and coming in ninth and 18th in two others.
She was scheduled to compete in her sixth race on Saturday: a mixed team event, the only mixed-gender ski racing event at the Winter Games. But persistent strong winds in the mountains outside Beijing forced a postponement. If the event cannot be held on Sunday it may not be held at all, as the Games close Sunday evening.
The event — which resembles parallel slalom, where two skiers go head-to-head on identical courses — was first held at an Olympics in 2018.
“Why do I keep coming back? Gosh knows it hurts more than it feels good lately,” Shiffrin wrote on Twitter after failing to finish her final individual event. “I come back because those first 9 turns today were spectacular, really heaven.”
The team event would be Shiffrin’s final opportunity to win a medal in Beijing.
On Twitter, she shared some hateful messages she had received after her disappointing performances. In a video posted to the site, she offered some advice on how to ignore negative feedback.
“You can choose to take them, and dwell on them, and let them make you want to retire, let them make you want to disappear and just never be seen again,” she said. “Or you can just say, ‘Hey, I’ve got a great sense of humor, and I’ve got a lot more to give to this world, so back off and let me do my thing. And I think a lot of you out there who might be experiencing these hate messages, I think a lot of you have that fire in you, so you just go for it.”
Long-track speedskating can be a bit sedate when it comes to the lengthier races. In those events, athletes cruise around smooth ice rinks, their arms resting behind their backs as they race only against the clock.
The mass start event, which first appeared at the 2018 Olympics, livens things up significantly. In the roughly four-mile race, 20 or more skaters are on the ice at the same time, drafting and jousting for position. Stay in your lane? Not in the mass start.
And at these Games, an American, Joey Mantia, may win in the men’s competition. (The speedskater Ian Quinn, 28, who is making his Olympic debut, will also hit the ice for the U.S. team.)
Even die-hard fans of speedskating acknowledge that the mass start packs more excitement than the sport’s traditional races. “I’ve been doing long track for about six years now,” Mantia said in 2018, “and I love the sport, but it’s a little tough to watch sometimes.”
Mantia, 36, started in in-line skating, a sport in which almost every race is a mass start. But he faces a formidable foe on Saturday: Bart Swings of Belgium, the defending silver medalist who has also had a long and impressive in-line skating career.
If the race is won by a significant distance, Swings could be first to the line. But if it’s a photo finish, Mantia, the faster sprinter of the two men, might have the edge.
Mantia also competed for the United States in speedskating’s team pursuit on Tuesday, as the Americans finished with a bronze and collected their second speedskating medal of these Olympics.
On the women’s side in the mass start, there is one clear favorite: Irene Schouten of the Netherlands. She has already won the 3,000 meters and the 5,000 meters at these Games, and she is likely to be first to the finish line no matter how many other racers are crowding the ice.
After nearly three weeks of athletes from around the world competing in one of the biggest international sporting events, the Winter Olympics in Beijing are nearing the end.
The final events will be on Sunday morning and afternoon in Beijing (late Saturday and early Sunday morning in the United States), and the closing ceremony is scheduled for 8 p.m. (7 a.m. Eastern time on Sunday; 4 a.m. Pacific time).
The Winter Games stand out as a carnival of danger: a stage for some of the most extreme sports on some of the most unforgiving surfaces. The daring feats of athleticism in Beijing have been showcased with bigger tricks, faster speeds, greater amplitude and fiercer competition, much of it defined by a new generation of athletes.
But these Games were not without their upsets or controversy, including a doping dispute that overshadowed women’s figure skating, one of the most popular sports.
There are still medals to be handed out in various events, including men’s hockey, women’s and men’s curling, women’s and men’s bobsled, pairs skating and men’s freeski halfpipe, among others.
The Games also continue: The Winter Paralympics will open on March 4 and end on March 13 in Beijing.
The bobsledder Elana Meyers Taylor, a three-time Olympic medalist and one of the most decorated U.S. bobsledders, will get to carry the American flag in an Olympic ceremony after all.
Two weeks after she missed out on the chance to carry the United States flag in the opening ceremony because she was in isolation after testing positive for the coronavirus, Meyers Taylor, 37, was chosen by her U.S. teammates for the same honor in the closing ceremony on Sunday in Beijing.
“I was so honored to be named the opening ceremony flag-bearer, but after not being able to carry the flag, it’s even more humbling to lead the United States at the closing ceremony,” Meyers Taylor said in a statement released by American Olympic officials.
Meyers Taylor was chosen along with the curler John Shuster to carry the flag during the opening ceremony but had to decline after she revealed in an Instagram post that she had tested positive for the coronavirus shortly after arriving in China.
She was replaced by the speedskater Brittany Bowe, a three-time Olympian chosen as an alternate by a vote among her teammates.
Meyers Taylor, 37, recovered in time to compete, and this week she won the silver medal in the inaugural monobob competition. She now has a medal from four straight Olympics, adding to silvers in Pyeongchang in 2018 and Sochi in 2014, and a bronze in Vancouver in 2010. She will compete again on Saturday in the two-woman bobsled, where she was in third place after the first two of four heats.
— Traci Carl
Kaillie Humphries and Elana Meyers Taylor of the United States are bobsledding’s most decorated women, having shared the medal podium at every Olympics since 2010.
The two pilots have already combined to win eight Olympic medals. On Saturday, they will try add to that substantial yield in the final two heats of the two-woman bobsled, though they will not be working together.
Humphries and Meyers Taylor are competing with the brakewomen Kaysha Love (in the sled piloted by Humphries) and Sylvia Hoffman (who will ride with Meyers Taylor). Love and Hoffman, who will push the sleds at the start, hop in and then yank the brakes after crossing the finish line, are making their Olympic debuts nearly three weeks after arriving in Beijing.
“She can’t win that medal without teamwork,” Love said of competing with Humphries, “so I just put some of that antsy energy into making sure that she doesn’t have to worry about the stuff on the back end.”
After the first two heats on Friday, Germany’s Laura Nolte and Deborah Levi led their countrywomen Mariama Jamanka and Alexandra Burghardt, with Meyers Taylor and Hoffman in third. Humphries and Love are close behind in fifth place, just behind a sled piloted by Christine De Bruin of Canada.
“I know it’s a whole new day tomorrow,” Meyers Taylor said. “Kaillie has come from behind before to win a medal, Christine is a great competitor, and we still got to go after the Germans. I got to figure it out and take out both teams.”
Germany’s early lead was hardly a surprise: Germany has won seven of the eight available golds in luge, skeleton and bobsled, and half the 24 sliding medals overall.
Meyers Taylor has won a medal in the two-woman event at three straight Olympics: silvers in Pyeongchang in 2018 and Sochi in 2014, and a bronze in Vancouver in 2010. In two of those Games — Vancouver and Sochi — Humphries won the gold racing for Canada. (Mariama Jamanka of Germany is the defending Olympic champion in the two-woman bobsled.)
Humphries, who is representing the United States at the Olympics for the first time after a split with Canada’s federation, and Meyers Taylor, who sat out a weeklong isolation after testing positive for the coronavirus after arriving in Beijing, have both taken winding paths to the starting line.
But they both blistered the National Sliding Center’s track in the inaugural monobob event, in which they pushed and steered their own sleds and finished first and second. And both are expected to contend in the two-woman event, which held its first two heats on Friday and will have two more on Saturday. Each sled’s cumulative time will determine the medalists.
Bobsled is one of the most watched events in the Winter Games, but the intricacies of the sport remain a bit of a mystery to some — for instance, how much do they actually weigh?
The sport is one of three sledding events on the Beijing Olympic program, with 12 medals being awarded. Men compete in teams of four and two, and women compete in teams of two or solo, in monobob.
Each division requires a different weight for the sled. Women’s monobob is making its Olympic debut in these games, featuring a one-person sled, like the one Kaillie Humphries of the United States rode for 4 minutes 19.27 seconds to a gold medal on Monday. The monobob is among the lightest of the sleds at about 365 pounds.
The sled for the two-woman teams weighs at least 284 pounds, while the two-man sled is a minimum of 384 pounds, according to the USA Bobsled/Skeleton Corporation.
But a four-man sled, made from metal and fiberglass, averages 462 pounds and weighs up to 1,389 pounds with its crew of two pushers, a pilot and a brakeman.
Only a few more days of the Games remain, and some of the athletes are taking their curtain calls. For Eileen Gu, the Chinese American breakout star in Beijing, her last appearance earned her the gold in freeski halfpipe — and her third medal at the Games. For Matt Hamilton and the rest of the U.S. men’s curling team, the defense of the gold medal they won four years ago ended without a medal after they lost to the Canadians in the third-place match. Our photographers caught those final moments and more on Friday.