ZHANGJIAKOU, China — Alex Hall’s final trick was called “the pretzel.” His stomach knotted up just thinking about whether to attempt it.
He did — because it’s the Olympics, after all — and by putting his personal spin on the slopestyle course Wednesday, he skied away with a gold medal.
The freestyler led a 1-2 American finish with a trick on his first run in which he stopped his rotation midair and turned in the other direction before softly landing.
Hall’s opening run drew a score of 90.01 that no one could match. His teammate Nick Goepper turned in a creative run on his second pass to earn silver. Jesper Tjader of Sweden took home bronze.
“I wasn’t sure if I could land it,” Hall said. “I was just kind of going for it and going all in. It worked out. I’m so hyped.”
The American men have captured six of nine Olympic medals since the event made its debut in 2014. Goepper has three of them, adding Wednesday to his silver from the 2018 Pyeongchang Games and bronze from the 2014 Sochi Games.
“So proud of the boys and so proud of how they skied,” said Skogen Sprang, head coach of the U.S. freeski slopestyle pro team. “They’ve put in a ton of work and they stayed true to the way they want to ski, and that’s what we’re all about in this sport. ... Landing it when it counts is huge.”
Hall stole the show on a frigid day at the Genting Snow Park, where the temperature was around minus-4. The 23-year-old who was born in Alaska, grew up in Switzerland and now lives in Utah had a few did-that-just-happen moments as the seventh competitor to take the course.
He skimmed off the top of a bump and did an impressive trick on one feature — a risky and unorthodox move that he had been working on in practice but didn’t know if it was going to score well with the judges (it did). That was just a warmup act for his midair spin on the last jump in which he was able to stop his momentum and basically turn back around.
“I’m just stoked I did it, my best slopestyle ever — and for the world to see that,” Hall said.
Amid a time of what Hall described as “spin to win” on tricks, he simply took a new approach to reach the top step of the podium. His coach applauded him for the bold decision.
“To be able to stay true to the roots and incorporate a trick like that in an Olympic run is huge for our sport,” Sprang said. “It just shows that you don’t always have to just spin the most or do the ... tricks that people think are the hardest. There’s room to be creative and do something new. That’s what we’re all about is creating new stuff and having fun.”
Goepper came the closest to matching Hall’s run with a score of 86.48.
“It wasn’t perfect, so I was surprised that it got that high of a score, but everyone was experiencing the Olympic jitters today,” said the 27-year-old from Indiana. “It was just a matter of putting one down, top to bottom.”
Tjader made sure he was technically sound on the rails, given how the judges were scrutinizing that aspect. He’s certain that’s a big reason he wound up on the podium.
As for Hall’s run, Tjader couldn’t wait to get a glimpse of it on video. Tjader was the next to go after Hall and hadn’t had a chance to view it.
“I heard it was amazing,” Tjader said. “The score was amazing.”
It’s another medal for Hall, who earned bronze at the 2021 world championships and another bronze last month at the Winter X Games.
This was certainly a sign of things to come: Hall was a silver medalist at the 2016 Winter Youth Olympic Games, where he finished behind Birk Ruud of Norway.
Ruud, who won the big air contest last Wednesday, wound up fifth. Andri Ragettli, the top qualifier from Switzerland, finished just off the podium in fourth. He had an early mistake on his final run and shut it down.
“It wasn’t meant to be, but I tried a hard run and I tried to do my best,” Ruud said. “My skiing is good and I feel like I’m there, but I just wasn’t putting it down today.”