Gu back in the winner's circle, Canadians collect three World Cup halfpipe medals

CALGARY — Freestyle ski star Eileen Gu was victorious in her first competition since taking Beijing's Olympic Games by storm and Canadians collected a pair of silver medals and a bronze in World Cup halfpipe Thursday.

The American-born Gu hit international stardom in last year's Winter Olympics in Beijing where she won halfpipe and big air gold, as well as slopestyle silver for the host Chinese team.

She rattled off scores of 95 in each of her three passes at night under the lights in WinSport's superpipe.

The 19-year-old was swarmed by fans seeking photos and autographs at the bottom of the pipe following her victory.

"It's been 11 and a half months since I've competed and coming out of the Olympics, obviously it's difficult to follow that up pressure wise, but I think it's been so much fun," Gu said.

"I've been rediscovering all this love that I have for the sport. I love it more now than ever.

"Also, juggling skiing with my first year of college is a brand new challenge this year. I'm just trying to do what I love and enjoy the whole process, and not put too much pressure on myself."

Rachael Karker of Erin, Ont., was second scoring a third-run 89 on the strength of a cork 1080 she unleashed for the first time this season.

"I was happy to improve with each run that I did," said Karker, who was a bronze medallist in Beijing.

"Sometimes if it isn't the cleanest run, it feels really good to put something down that I haven't done in awhile.

"(Eileen) is a great skier and she pushes the sport and so I'm thankful for all of that."

Gu didn't compete in December's season-opening World Cup at Copper Mountain, Colo., where Karker was victorious.

So the Canadian remained the women's World Cup halfpipe leader.

Hanna Faulhaber of the U.S. placed third with 77.25 points on a windless evening with the temperature of -5 C.

"Tonight the pipe was running really fast and being able to go big and hold my grabs, having some unique axis and style, I think played to my advantage," Gu said.

2018 Olympic champion Cassie Sharpe of Comox, B.C., who was a silver medallist behind Gu in Beijing, is taking time off and not competing in Calgary.

Calgary's Brendan Mackay held the top score of 94.50 after two men's rounds.

But when Finland's Jon Sallinen threw down a 96 in the finale, Mackay upped his difficulty attempting a double cork 1620 that he didn't quite nail.

"My first run went really well, which always takes the pressure off a bit," said Mackay.

"I was playing with the idea of upping the difficulty and then after Jon put down that last run, I realized I needed to up the difficulty.

"I went for it. I think I was close. The trick I went for, I haven't done it in awhile. Last time, I got a bit injured on it, so I've been nervous to do it."

Simon d'Artois of Whistler, B.C., took bronze with 93 points.

Mackay, who was also second in Copper Mountain, led the men's World Cup halfpipe standings.

Competition continues Saturday in Calgary with the third of four scheduled World Cups this season.

"Saturday, everyone will be skiing a lot of days in a row, so if I can ski as well as I did tonight and land that run I went for at the end, I'd be really stoked about that," Mackay said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 19, 2023.

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press