Zoi Sadowski-Synnott is perfectly primed to chase New Zealand’s first Winter Olympics gold medal on Sunday.
The 20-year-old qualified for the snowboard women’s slopestyle final in top place of the 12 finalists after two strong showings at the Genting Snow Park in Zhangjiakou on Saturday.
On the first day of competition at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, Sadowski-Synnott had a best score of 86.75, achieved on her second run as 30 athletes chased a place in the final.
Sadowski-Synnott’s top qualifying spot gives her the advantage of going last in her three runs in the final on Sunday. The scores from Saturday’s qualifiers are wiped clean, with the three medals going to the best scores registered in any single run from a competitor on Sunday.
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The women’s snowboard slopestyle final is scheduled to start at 2.30pm NZ time, with the second run starting at 2.57pm and the final chance to impress the judges and win a medal starting at 3.24pm.
Japan’s 17-year-old Kokomo Murase set the pace in the first round of qualifying on Saturday but Sadowski-Synnott pushed her into second spot despite a score of 81.45 on Murase’s second run, while defending champion Jamie Anderson of the United States was fifth with a best score of 74.35.
A bronze medallist last time out in PyeongChang, Zoi Sadowski-Synnott is among the gold medal favourites in Beijing.
Fellow New Zealander Cool Wakushima had a heavy landing on her last jump in the first run (with a score of 34.46) on her Winter Olympics debut and didn’t compete in the second run after injuring her tailbone in training on Friday.
“I’m just stoked to put both my runs down and make it to the finals,” Sadowski-Synnott told Sky TV soon after qualification had ended.
Sadowski-Synnott was the second competitor away on the first run and impressed with a score of 73.58 despite playing it relatively safe, finishing with a backside 720 at the last jump. Competitors are judged on a combination of their tricks and jumps (60 per cent), and their overall impression (the other 40 per cent).
While she had a minor problem with her first rail in her second run, she blossomed into a string of big jumps and tricks which delighted the judges and pushed her to the top of the qualifiers.
“That doesn’t even scratch the surface of what she’s capable of,” one of the TV commentators said after the second run, before the score was posted.
Sadowski-Synnott was a bronze medallist in big air snowboard discipline at the 2018 PyeongChang Games and is one of the favourites for gold in both the slopestyle and big air events in Beijing, having won numerous titles in global events ahead of her second Olympics.
The 20-year-old captured two gold medals in slopestyle and big air at last month’s X Games in Aspen, Colorado, considered the “holy grail” of snow sports. She was also awarded the prestigious best in snow title.
New Zealand have yet to win a Winter Olympics gold – Sadowski-Synnott and freeskier Nico Porteous won bronze medals in 2018 while Annelise Coberger was the first Kiwi to win a medal, capturing silver in 1992 in the women’s slalom (alpine skiing).