2018 Year In Review: Summit County’s local snowboarders medal at Winter Olympics, Paralympics (No. 4)

In February and March, Olympic fever overtook Summit County when a handful of local athletes won medals at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter and Paralympic Games.

At the center of it all was 17-year-old Red Gerard’s scintillating gold-medal win in the men’s snowboard slopestyle competition. Gerard became the United States’ first gold medalist at the South Korean games — and the youngest American male to win an individual event in Winter Olympic history — during his final run through the slopestyle course in South Korea.

Gerard’s win catapulted him to instant Olympic stardom. His Instagram followers ballooned from 50,000 to 235,000 by the end of the year. He cracked jokes on Jimmy Kimmel Live. He was beckoned to the lectern by President Donald Trump.

“I was all nervous, man,” Gerard said of meeting the president in April. “He said my name and then he was like, ‘Why don’t you come up here? And I was like, ‘ah, you don’t have to do that.’ I wasn’t expecting that at all.”

Two months before, though, heading into the Olympic slopestyle final, Gerard was regarded as a wild card to bring home the gold due to his inventive take on slopestyle courses.

Executing four rotations and three inversions on his triple-cork 1440 on his final jump on the slopestyle course, Gerard stomped his landing to provide a pseudo-sequel to American Sage Kotsenburg’s gold-medal run at the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014.

But did it feel like a gold medal run?

“I don’t know, to be honest,” Gerard said after the Feb. 10 competition. “I didn’t watch too many runs. I kind of tried to stay warm and sit inside. It felt like a good run.”

Gerard’s win rocketed the United States to awesome success in snowboarding competitions throughout the rest of the Olympics and Paralympics. In total, Team USA won six total medals in snowboarding at the Olympics and 13 at the Paralympics the following month.

Bronze for gold

Gerard’s gold-medal win just days into the Olympics kicked off a string of success on the halfpipe, slopestyle and big air courses that included Steamboat Springs native and Breckenridge resident Arielle Gold taking bronze in the women’s halfpipe competition.

Gold’s bronze medal was redemptive for the then-21-year-old snowboarder following personal challenges at the 2014 Sochi Games. In the Sochi halfpipe, moments before her competition was scheduled to begin, Gold fell and dislocated her shoulder. Her Olympics ended in the hospital rather than on the podium.

Four years later, however, while still nursing that shoulder in need of surgery, Gold landed a front-side 1080 tailgrab spin — three full rotations on her board that, when landed right, can put her on the podium at any event in the world. It did just that in South Korea.

“It’s about having that confidence to really know I can trust myself to go bigger and be able to land regardless of the speed I’m taking,” Gold said.

Mack attacks

To round out the Olympic games, one of Gerard’s close friends won silver in the debut Olympic big air event. That friend was prideful West Bloomfield, Michigan, native Kyle Mack. On a day when Gerard, Mack and their fellow Silverthorne snowboarder Chris Corning all finished in the top five, it was the 20-year-old Mack who landed on the podium with his epic trademark move: The Bloody Dracula.

The move entails grabbing the tail of the board with both hands. Mack didn’t even land the trick — officially called a “front-side double cork 1440 Bloody Dracula” in snowboard lingo — in practice. But he landed it clean when it counted, for a score of 86.75.

“The whole reason I wanted to do it was for snowboarding,” Mack said. “It’s just bringing style into snowboarding is kind of like the main thing I’ve always worked on.”

The then-18-year-old Corning, who ultimately finished in fourth place, almost topped Mack when he attempted his own signature trick — the quadruple-cork 1800 — on his final big air jump. Corning would ultimately land the trick seven months later at a World Cup big air event in Cardrona, New Zealand. It made him the first American ever to land the physics-defying move, which requires four inversions and five full 360-degree rotations. It also capped a 2018 for Corning where, though he didn’t medal at the Olympics, won the International Ski & Snowboard Federation’s overall 2017–18 park and pipe snowboarding season championship and crystal globe.

Adaptive awes

In March, numerous para-athletes with the Summit County-based Adaptive Action Sports competed on the Olympic courses. The highlight for Summit County came when Frisco’s flamboyant rider Mike Minor won gold in a banked slalom racing event. It was quite the bounceback for Minor, as earlier in the week a semifinal wreck in his Paralympic division’s snowboard cross race left him without a medal.

“It hasn’t set in yet,” Minor said. “It will definitely take a little bit, but I feel amazing. I’m just proud of my performance and am really happy that I was able to hold it all together when it mattered most.”

Minor was joined in the medal count by Silverthorne veteran Paralympian Amy Purdy, who won silver in snowboard cross and bronze in banked slalom.

“I look back to when I lost both my legs and just wanting to snowboard again,” Purdy said. “I certainly wouldn’t have known that I’d come here and win the medals that I have. I’m grateful that I’m able to share that with other people and that they can maybe look at what we do and say ‘hey, if they can do that then I can do that as well.’ There’s a bigger picture here than just the medal itself.”

Of the totality of the United States, by the end of the Olympics and Paralympics, Summit County could rightfully dub itself “Snowboard Capitol, USA,” if it wanted to. The world-class facilities at resorts like Breckenridge Ski Resort and Copper Mountain Resort played a part in the success of not only the local athletes, but international champions as well. And the people of Summit County also took pride in their community members’ accomplishments.

After Gerard’s gold-medal win, an anonymous person draped the word “Gold” over the “Silver” portion of the “Welcome to Silverthorne” sign off of Interstate 70 eastbound. The town was so OK with it, they left the sign up through the remainder of the Olympics.

Then there was the celebratory parade in Silverthorne months later. There, Summit County’s people got the chance to mingle with Corning, Gerard, Mack and others. And Summit County’s Olympians got to see just how much they meant to us.

“You stoke way more people out there than you think,” Mack said at the parade.

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