BEIJING: “Super-proud” snowboarder Zoi Sadowski Synnott made history yesterday after winning New Zealand’s first ever Winter Olympic gold but the men’s downhill skiers were forced to wait 24 hours for their chance. Seven golds were up for grabs on the second full day of competition in Beijing. Seven became six when the men’s downhill—one of the most closely watched events at any Winter Olympics—was postponed until Monday because of gusty winds.

Norway’s Aleksander AamodtKilde—one half of skiing’s golden couple with American Mikaela Shiffrin—will be hot favorite. Sadowski Synnott, 20, held her nerve to take the women’s snowboard slopestyle title with the last run of the competition. “Honestly it’s absolute disbelief but it probably means more to me to win New Zealand’s first Winter Olympic gold,” said Sadowski Synnott, who was born in Sydney and moved to New Zealand when she was six. “It makes me super proud to be a Kiwi.”

Sadowski Synnott, who spent Covid lockdown jumping on a trampoline to help her aerial awareness, launched into a massive jump with her final trick to earn a winning score of 92.88. She was mobbed by silver medalist Julia Marino of the USA and Tess Coady of Australia, who won bronze. New Zealand had previously won one silver and two bronze medals at the Winter Olympics—including a third-place finish for Sadowski Synnott in the Big Air competition at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games. Freestyle skier Jakara Anthony made it an Antipodean double as she won the women’s moguls gold.

More than medals

Cross-country skier Alexander Bolshunov became the first Russian to win an Olympic title at these Games—but not for Russia. Punished for mass doping at the Sochi Olympics in 2014, the Russians must compete under the banner of the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC). Such was his dominance of the 15-kilometre-plus-15-kilometre skiathlon, Bolshunov had time to wave at the TV cameras long before the race had finished. He took umbrage afterwards at questions about Russia’s doping-tainted past in cross-country skiing.

“You don’t just become an Olympic champion all of a sudden,” fumed Bolshunov, who won his first gold, adding to three previous silvers and a bronze.

“As for doping, when I hear those words, it honestly turns me inside out. I do not accept that and when I hear those words, I don’t even want to hear them.” Clocking 133 kilometers per hour, Germany’s Johannes Ludwig thundered to gold in the men’s luge after holding off a challenge from Austria’s Wolfgang Kindl.

Georgian athlete Saba Kumaritashvili failed to make the luge final—but he was competing for more than medals. His cousin Nodar Kumaritashvili was killed in the same sport at the 2010 Vancouver Games when his sledge flew off the track in training, hours before the opening ceremony. “I think about Nodar—I think about him all the time,” said Kumaritashvili. “After Nodar, I didn’t want luge to die in Georgia, I wanted to keep it going. I wasn’t afraid. I wanted to be in the Olympics to race.”

Panda shortage

Ryoyu Kobayashi won ski jumping gold for Japan on the men’s normal hill, holding his nerve while his main title rivals lost theirs. Kobayashi became the first Japanese ski jumper to win Olympic gold on foreign snow. Dutch speed skater Sven Kramer was aiming for a fourth gold in four Games at 5,000 meters, but he could only finish ninth as Sweden’s Nils van der Poel took Kramer’s title and his Olympic record.

Meanwhile, organizers admitted they had failed to produce enough panda souvenirs to keep up with demand. Bing DwenDwen, a cuddly panda on ice skates, is the official mascot of the Beijing Games—but people in China are being turned away disappointed from gift shops. Zhao Weidong, a spokesman for the local organizing committee, blamed the shortage on the Lunar New Year holiday in China. “The supply of licensed products has been affected by that,” he said. “We are now making efforts in coordinating the production and supply of Bing DwenDwen.”

The Beijing Games are taking place in a vast “closed loop” designed to fight the coronavirus. There have been more than 363 positive cases in the bubble since January 23, according to the latest figures, among them an unknown number of competitors. The nearly 3,000 athletes are cocooned along with tens of thousands of volunteers, support staff and journalists. Everyone inside the bubble must wear face masks and take daily COVID tests.- AFP