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Gu golden again in World Cup halfpipe, Canada’s Karker, Bowman finish on podium

Eileen Gu’s halfpipe is ready for the Winter X Games.
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Rachael Karker of Canada competes during the women’s World Cup freestyle ski halfpipe event in Calgary, Alta., Saturday, Jan. 21, 2023.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

Eileen Gu’s halfpipe is ready for the Winter X Games.

The 19-year-old freestyle skier won her second World Cup in Calgary with Canada’s Rachael Karker taking a second silver behind Gu on Saturday night.

Alex Ferreira and Birk Irving of the United States finished one-two in the men’s event with Calgary’s Noah Bowman taking bronze.

The American-born Gu hit international stardom last year claiming Olympic halfpipe and big air gold medals, and slopestyle silver, for the host Chinese team in Beijing.

Neither Gu nor Karker scored as high as they did Thursday in Calgary in what was Gu’s first competition in any freestyle discipline since Beijing.

But Gu’s 93.50 in the second of three rounds put the teenager comfortably in the lead.

She will compete in next week’s Winter X Games in Aspen, Colo., but didn’t answer the question of how many events she will enter.

“I’m just happy to be here,” Gu said Saturday. “I mean, there’s a lot of pressure, but I’m just learning to deal with it.

“I’m enjoying what I’m doing and I’m having fun and that’s what counts.”

Gu was again in demand for pictures and autographs from a crowd of about 500 gathered at the bottom of WinSport’s superpipe.

The temperature held just above freezing during the event, with more breeze at the top of the pipe than Thursday.

Karker’s first-round 85.50 stood up for her 11th straight World Cup podium dating back to 2019-20.

“That’s pretty crazy. Yeah, loving it. That’s wild,” Karker said. “Competing is such an adrenalin high and such a crash, it’s really hard to do day after day, but I’m so happy that it worked out.”

The 25-year-old from Erin, Ont., who was a bronze medallist in Beijing, continues to lead the women’s World Cup halfpipe standings after three of four scheduled events this season.

Kexin Zhang of China was third Saturday with a top score of 81.75 points.

Ferreira’s 94.50 in the second round was the highest men’s score of the day ahead of Irving’s 93.

Bowman fell on his first two passes attempting a right-side 1440, but nailed it on his third and final pass to score 90.50.

“Training went terribly,” Bowman said. “I fell on every run and fell on the first two runs of the competition as well. It was just a struggle all night to get this right-side 1440, the trick I was going for.

“I was able to put it down for the third run. That’s the first time I’ve done that run with that trick. Putting that run down under pressure in my hometown felt amazing.”

The 30-year-old collected the 13th World Cup medal of his career.

Calgary’s Brendan Mackay and Simon d’Artois of Whistler, B.C., placed second and third among men Thursday.

Karker, Bowman, Mackay, d’Artois, Calgary’s Amy Fraser and Dillan Glennie of Courtney, B.C., are Canada’s halfpipe entries in the Jan. 27-29 invitational X Games, which has been called the Super Bowl of freestyle ski and snowboard.

Calgary was useful preparation for Aspen where they’ll compete at night under the lights again.

“This was great, actually, because we did the last two days at night and at the same time, so it’s kind of already put me on that late-night schedule,” Karker said.

She made the agonizing decision to decline her X Games invitation in 2022 in order to avoid both injury and the COVID-19 virus ahead of Beijing’s Winter Games.

Karker is a three-time medallist in Aspen with a silver and two bronze.

“It is sort of our second to the Olympics,” Karker said. “It’s the biggest event we have every year and to skip that, I was pretty gutted last year to say no.

“I’ve podiumed at every X Games I’ve been to, so excited to try and make that four.”

The half-dozen halfpipe skiers are among 15 Canadians invited to Aspen this year. Regina snowboarder Mark McMorris holds the record for most medals won in Winter X Games with 21.

2018 Olympic champion Cassie Sharpe of Comox, B.C., was second to Gu in Beijing. Sharpe did not compete in Calgary because she’s taking time off this season.

The Canadian Press

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