BEIJING — Young Chinese extreme athletes were ready for a big Olympic stage.
The host nation built one for them, and they delivered.
Su Yiming gave China its second gold medal at the Big Air Shougang, matching Eileen Gu with a stunning display on Tuesday in front of fans at the strange – and perhaps now iconic – repurposed steel mill while taking home the top prize of the country in Olympic snowboarding.
The 17-year-old child actor-turned-rider followed up his unexpected money in slopestyle by joining Gu in cementing his celebrity status with a gold medal in the big air. Gu won the best freestyle skiing trick competition here last week on his final jump, and backlash briefly erupted on Chinese social media site Weibo.
Su swept his competition so well that he was able to take a relaxed lap of honor on his final jump. He held his hands to his head amid a standing ovation from a roughly half-capacity crowd at Big Air Shougang – all of whom were allowed to sneak into the venue amid coronavirus restrictions.
Moments after taking her place on the podium, Su spotted her parents in the stands and started crying.
He hadn’t seen his mum and dad for seven months as he trained in Europe and competed around the world. He spoke to them through a fence separating authorized people inside the Beijing Olympic bubble from fans.
“I was thinking back to when I was 4 years old and my first time snowboarding,” he said in English. “I’m so grateful. This moment is so special for my family.”
Three days before his 18th birthday, Su started the competition with a straight 1800 – five rounds – finishing the round first forward, then backward. He led by 17.5 points going into the final set, and no one came close in the third set.
Slopestyle gold medalist Max Parrot of Canada and Japanese runner Takeru Otsuka each landed a lap with a higher score than Su in the first two laps, but neither paired it with a second big jump in the competition. in three rounds.
Mons Roisland of Norway was the last competitor with a realistic chance of catching Su. He played it safe with a 1620, blocking the money and setting up Su’s victory lap. Parrot got bronze.
Su, an aspiring actor who landed a role in an action movie, “The Taking of Tiger Mountain,” has made a shocking breakthrough to the forefront of competitive snowboarding.
He spent the Beijing Games talking about other riders he mostly watched from afar, including Parrot, who became the eighth snowboarder with a record three Olympic medals.
“Two years ago, I didn’t even know him,” Parrot said. “After the podium, we had a quick chat, and he told me that I was one of his idols, and he looked up to me for this past year. He said that because of me, he pushed really hard.
“So I told him, now you’re going to push me really hard.”
Su started working with Japanese coach Yasuhiro Sato when he was 14 with an eye on the Beijing Games, and he suddenly became a force. He won only his third World Cup competition in Colorado in December, becoming the first Chinese rider to win a medal on this circuit.
“Coach Sato is actually a coach who changed my life,” Su said through an interpreter. “The knowledge and tricks he taught me, I understand and assimilate completely.”
Su proved it with her silver medal in slopestyle, a medal that would have turned gold if the judges had noticed that Parrot had missed a hold on her first jump. It was the first of several scoring mishaps in snowboarding events at the Beijing Games, sparking a wave of frustration on the field.
There was no judging drama on Tuesday. Su’s lead after two laps was so large that the competitors played it safe on their third jumps, maneuvering instead to simply crack the podium.
Su was plotting to drop a 1980 on his last race. He was happy to keep it in his back pocket when not needed.
“When that moment came, I was so excited,” he said through an interpreter. “At that time, I wanted to enjoy it and understand everything.”
China has six medals in snowboarding and freestyle skiing in Beijing, trailing only the United States and Canada with eight. Su and Gu combined for four of them, and Gu could still win another halfpipe.
The host country turned heads when it converted much of the Shougang Group’s former steelworks into a winter sports complex, with the world’s only permanent big air venue.
Skiers and snowboarders hovering in front of sleeping cooling towers can be remembered around the world as a defining image of the Beijing Games.
In China, it is now also the site of two memorable Olympic triumphs.