A new generation of Olympians born after the turn of the 21st century arrived in force for the latest edition of the Olympic Winter Games, and some made it straight to the podium. Here we put the spotlight on the millennials who left PyeongChang clutching medals.
Gerard delivers slopestyle masterpiece
“He turned up with a pack of crayons and painted a Monet.” That was how one TV commentator summed up the achievements of 17-year-old Red Gerard, the US freestyle snowboard tyro who won gold in the men’s slopestyle on 11 February. In doing so he became the first Winter Olympic champion born since the turn of the century.
Nobody was more surprised than he was. “I cannot believe it,” he said of his victory. “I'm shaking right now, maybe from the cold, or from the excitement, I don't know. But I'm ecstatic, I can't believe I got to land my run. Just to land a run would have been plenty for me and to get on the podium, but to get first is crazy!”
Born on 29 June 2000, the teenager left it late to produce his “masterpiece”, shrugging off any pressure to deliver a near perfect third run that catapulted him to the top of the scoreboard. His gold medal made him the third youngest male champion in the history of the Winter Games, after a pair of 16-year-olds: Finnish ski jumper Tomi Nieminen, who topped the podium at Albertville 1992, and fellow American Billy Fiske who piloted the US sled to gold at St Moritz 1928.
Kim sprinkles stardust on the Olympic halfpipe
US teenager Chloe Kim has dominated the women’s international halfpipe circuit since she was 14, claiming four Winter X Games titles, and on 13 February 2018 she became the youngest ever female snowboarder to win an Olympic gold. Had it not been for age restrictions, she would have made her full Olympic debut at Sochi 2014. Instead, while biding her time for PyeongChang, she claimed an impressive golden double at the Winter Youth Olympic Games in Lillehammer in 2016, winning both slopestyle and halfpipe events.
At the Bokwang Snow Park, the 17-year-old, whose parents both hail from the Republic of Korea, lived up to her billing as one of PyeongChang 2018’s hottest favourites, with a stunning display of freestyle snowboarding that saw her soar to the gold. The outcome of the contest was already decided by the time she embarked on her third run in which she scored a near perfect 98.25. That left second placed Liu Jiayu (CHN) trailing far behind with a top score of 89.75, while Kim’s compatriot Arielle Gold (85.75) took bronze.
“I just knew I wasn't going to be happy, even if I went home with the gold, if I knew I could do better,” said Kim. “So that third run was really just to prove to myself that I deserved it and did everything I could. I'm so happy.”
Clearly a perfectionist when in competition mode, Kim is also incredibly laid back off the slopes. And she clearly enjoyed her post-event press conference. In between fielding questions – switching effortlessly between English and Korean – she took selfies, exchanged a hug with fellow medallist Arielle Gold, and chatted to her mother at the back of the room about plans for a family celebration. Meanwhile, she was happy to talk on any number of topics, ranging from hamburgers to shopping trips with her Korean grandmother; she even answered a few questions about snowboarding!
Zagitova crowned ice queen at the age of 15
Olympic Athlete from Russia, Alina Zagitova became the second youngest women’s figure skating champion in Olympic history - after the USA’s Tara Lipinski - when she won gold three months shy of her 16th birthday. Zagitova, the reigning junior world champion, made an instant impact in her first season on the senior international circuit, so it was no great surprise to see her mount a formidable challenge to the favourite Evgenia Medvedeva (OAR) on the Olympic stage.
Zagitova’s two programmes at the Gangneung Ice Arena were both original and consummately executed. Skating to the music from the film Black Swan, she recorded a huge score of 82.92 points to overtake the world record benchmark of 81.61 that Medvedeva had just set with her own programme.
Then, skating to the music from the opera Don Quixote for her free programme, the 15-year-old produced another flawless display, deliberately concentrating all of her jumps into the second half of her routine to increase the difficulty level and enhance her technical score.
“My programme is very harmonious,” she explained. “At the start the music is slow, becoming more dynamic and picking up tempo towards the end, so that’s where I put my jumps. It captures the attention of the audience and forces them to keep watching until the very end.”
Prior to Zagitova’s surprise victory at the European Championships in Moscow a month earlier, Medvedeva had remained unbeaten in all international competition for almost two years. With Zagitova’s meteoric rise she can no longer be assured of success. The 15-year-old’s gold at PyeongChang 2018 means she maintained a 100% record at senior level, one that she will aim to preserve at the 2018 World Championships in Milan (ITA) in March.
Teens set new benchmark for France, China and New Zealand
A number of other ‘millennials’ made it onto the podium at PyeongChang 2018 to set new age benchmarks for their respective NOCs.
On 16 February 2018, 16-year-old Julia Pereira de Souza Mabileau, who was born on 20 September 2001, won silver in the women’s snowboard cross to become the youngest ever French athlete to win a medal at the Winter Olympics. “I’m still on cloud nine,” said the teenager, who couldn’t stop laughing after edging the reigning champion Eva Samkova into third place.
A day later, 17-year old Li Junyu of China, born on 30 January 2001, claimed silver in the women’s 1,500m speed skating event. In doing so she became China’s youngest ever Winter Olympic medallist, breaking the record set by figure skater Chen Lu, who took bronze in the women’s singles at Lillehammer 1994 aged 17 years and 93 days.
Meanwhile, over at the Bokwang Phoenix Snow Park, a pair of teenagers from New Zealand caused a stir in the freestyle events. Going into PyeongChang 2018 No New Zealander had won a Winter Olympic medal for 26 years. Then in one incredible afternoon on 22 February, they won two, thanks to a pair of 16-year-olds.
First, Zoi Sadowski-Synnott claimed a surprise bronze in the women’s snowboard big air to become her NOC’s youngest ever Olympic medallist aged 16 and 353 days. Then within hours, Nico Porteous repeated the feat in the men’s ski halfpipe. Aged 16 and 91 days, he claimed the mantle as New Zealand’s youngest ever medallist at the Games.