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ZHANGJIAKOU, China — Switzerland's Mathilde Gremaud won gold in the women's freeski slopestyle at the Beijing Olympics on Tuesday, while China's home favorite, Eileen Gu, was roared on by fans in the final but had to settle for silver.
China's "Snow Princess" Gu went all out from the beginning, landing a clean and controlled first run, but hit the deck on her second try, forcing her to sit on her skis to take a breath.
The fall piled the pressure on Gu ahead of her third and final run and while she earned 86.23 it was not enough to top Gremaud's best of 86.56, with Estonia's Kelly Sildaru taking bronze with 82.06.
Gu hugged her fellow medalists after her score was called out, smiling broadly at the camera, making a heart gesture with her arms and waving to fans in the stands.
Taking a pork bun out of a plastic container after the final, the 18-year-old Gu apologised to a crowd of reporters for always eating while taking questions.
"I just have no other time to eat," the San Francisco-born skier said as she took a bite.
"I wanted to get on the podium more than anything, so landing that (third run) I felt happy, I felt relieved," Gu said, adding that she had put herself under intense pressure to land the double cork 1080 in her third and final run.
Gu said she would think about the narrow difference between her best score and that of the Swiss skier for a while, but said she was "honored" to take silver and compete at the Olympics.
"I didn't win the contest but I still walked away with a silver medal after a gold medal (at Big Air) ... so I'm proud of myself," she said.
Gu competed in the U.S. team as a child but switched to compete for China in 2019.
Gremaud, 22, who won silver in slopestyle at the Pyeongchang Games in 2018 and bronze in the Big Air event last week, held back her firepower until her second run, which catapulted her to the top of the rankings.
Sildaru's runs were full of mid-air grabs but she lost balance and fell in her second run, losing her skis and having to walk down the course.
Sildaru, taking part in her first Olympic Games, said she had competed against Gu many times before at international contests, but had never seen so much local love for her.
"I understand the hype," the Estonian said, adding that she hoped to compete at an Olympics in her home country one day.
Tess Ledeux of France, who won the Big Air silver last week and was widely favored to end up on the podium Tuesday, fell during one of her jumps, landing heavily and skidding down the course. A despondent Ledeux struggled again in her third run, putting her helmeted head in hands as she ended the final in seventh place.
Supporters bundled up in heavy coats cheered Gu on in the half-filled stands at the Genting Snow Park in Zhangjiakou, waving small pink flags decorated with the popular Olympic mascot, a panda in an ice suit.
A line of venue staff and volunteers gathered for the final run, eager to catch a glimpse of Gu.