Zoi Sadowski-Synnott wins NZ's first gold at Winter Games

Zoi Sadowski-Synnott celebrates after her gold medal winning run. Photo: Getty Images
Zoi Sadowski-Synnott celebrates after her gold medal winning run. Photo: Getty Images
After sending 141 athletes to 16 Olympics since 1952, New Zealand have for the first time struck gold in the cold.

Wanaka's Zoi Sadowski-Synnott today became the first Kiwi athlete to be crowned a Winter Games champion, putting down a spectacular third run in the women's slopestyle final to seize gold in the most dramatic of circumstances.

Standing at the top of the mountain in the silver-medal position as the final competitor, Sadowski-Synnott knew nothing short of her best would be required to reach the top of the podium.

And that was exactly what the 20-year-old delivered at Genting Snow Park, raising her arms high in the air after landing the second of the back-to-back 1080s that would reap gold.

At the bottom of her run Sadowski-Synnott was mobbed by American Julie Marino and Australian Tess Coady, the three medallists congratulating one another with the exact colours still to be determined.

Marino must in particular have been in an anxious mood, having leaped ahead of Sadowski-Synnott and into the gold-medal position with her second run.

The Kiwi was unable to respond with her second attempt, leaving it all on the line with her third. And once the judges' scores flashed on the screen following a flawless run, Sadowski-Synnott's spot in the record books was secure.

Zoi Sadowski Synnott  competing in the  snowboard slopestyle final  on Sunday. Photo: Getty Images
Zoi Sadowski Synnott competing in the snowboard slopestyle final on Sunday. Photo: Getty Images

Her score of 92.88 blew away Marino (87.68) and the rest of the competition, confirming her status as the dominant force in women's snowboarding.

Sadowski-Synnott is no stranger to Olympic history, four years ago becoming New Zealand's youngest medallist when winning big air bronze in Pyeongchang.

That was this country's second winter medal and everything that transpired in the four years since suggested she had the potential to claim New Zealand's first gold in Beijing.

That possibility looked even more likely when the Wanaka local blitzed the field yesterday to seal her passage to the final as the top qualifier, and she remained in that position following a first-run score of 84.51.

By landing back-to-back 1080s on that initial run, Sadowski-Synnott immediately laid down a gauntlet to the other 11 athletes in the final.

It wasn't flawless from the Kiwi - there were still some improvements to be made on the rail section at the top of the course - but it did for a time look good enough for gold.

That was until Marino put down a second run that produced a score of 87.68 and bumped Sadowski-Synnott down a place on the leaderboard.

The Kiwi's initial attempt to leap back into the gold-medal position was short-lived, with more issues on the rails early in her second run throwing off her rhythm and soon leading to a minor fall.

But once the rest of the field had completed their third attempts, Sadowski-Synnott was left with one last chance to soar into history.

She would not disappoint.

New Zealand have now won 54 Olympic gold medals but, until today, each had come at the Summer Games.

Now, 70 years after Kiwis made their winter debut, Sadowski-Synnott has applied a golden glow to the snow.

'I'm just super proud'

Moments after making Olympic history with a highly technical run in the women's slopestyle final, Zoi Sadowski-Synnott reacted in rather more straightforward fashion.

The 20-year-old today became the first New Zealander to win a gold medal at the Winter Games, a momentous achievement that clearly left her lost for words.

Well, just about lost for words - she managed to find three.

"What the f**k", was the succinct caption on the photo Sadowski-Synnott posted to her Instagram minutes after her dramatic victory, posing with Australian bronze medallist Tess Coady.

That incredulity was more than deserved after Sadowski-Synnott had left her golden run until last, heading into her third and final attempt in the silver-medal position.

Sadowski-Synnott moments after learning her third and final run had clinched gold. Photo: Getty...
Sadowski-Synnott moments after learning her third and final run had clinched gold. Photo: Getty Images
A flawless last-gasp run saw the Kiwi record a score of 92.88 to leap ahead of American Julia Marino (87.68) and into top spot, a position that clearly took some time to sink in.

Asked about her prevailing emotion after earning a historic gold, Sadowski-Synnott told Sky: "Honestly, complete disbelief.

"It's an indescribable feeling, but I just knew I had to put it down and knew I was capable of it. It took everything in me to try to land that last jump."

Once that jump had been landed - the second of the back-to-back 1080s that Sadowski-Synnott had figured would be required to take out the competition - she was tackled to the snow by an equally jubilant Marino and Coady.

There wasn't a trace of animosity as the trio of medallists waited for the judges to determine whether Sadowski-Synnott or Marino would take gold, and the Kiwi said the relationship between athletes was one of her favourite things about the sport.

"That was a crazy moment and just shows how special snowboarding is - you cheer more when your friends are doing well than yourself," she said. "That's why I love it."

Her success must also bolster that passion, and winning gold has become a familiar feeling for Sadowski-Synnott since she burst onto the scene by claiming big air bronze at Pyeongchang 2018.

Four years of hard work looked like it would pay off in Beijing after she triumphed in the slopestyle at last month's X Games in Aspen, and her status as a gold-medal contender was confirmed when she topped yesterday's qualification.

But the performance of her rivals in the final meant Sadowski-Synnott was forced to do it the hard way.

"It's not over till it's over," she said of her thoughts before her final run. "I was super lucky by qualifying in first so that I could drop last.

"Everyone out there today had a chance at medalling and you just had to be completely 100 per cent on it."

That was the level she reached in the last run and it resulted in both a gold medal and a permanent place in the annals of New Zealand sport.

"It makes me pretty emotional," Sadowski-Synnott said of her trailblazing achievement. "Im just super proud."

 

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