KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia (AP) — Maddie Bowman entered the Olympic debut of women's halfpipe skiing the heavy favorite. Somebody forgot to tell her stomach.
Preparing to drop in before her first qualifying run on Thursday night, the 20-year-old felt a familiar rumbling. "I felt like I was going to barf," Bowman said. The girl with the massive braid and the even bigger air time settled down, then settled in for a golden run into history.
"That's called X Games stomach," Sue Bowman said about her daughter. "That's what she's always called it. She always gets it at X Games." And Bowman typically wins at the X Games. Sochi was no different. Bowman posted the two biggest runs of the night in the finals, more than good enough to edge France's Marie Martinod for the sixth U.S. gold at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park. She was joined on the podium afterward by teammate David Wise, who captured gold in the men's halfpipe event on Tuesday and gave Bowman an impromptu piggyback ride in celebration.
"This is pretty surreal," Bowman said. "This doesn't happen every day. Only happens every four years, and this is the first time it's ever happened for our sport." It's a night that wouldn't have been possible without late Canadian freestyle skier Sarah Burke, who championed adding halfpipe skiing to the Olympics before her death due to injuries she sustained in a training run in 2012.
"I grew up looking up to Sarah, watching her ski and watching her," Bowman said. "I met her for my first time at X Games. It was the coolest moment of my life. She was a hero in my eyes. She still is."
Bowman swiped a page from Burke's trademark kindness during the finals. When teammate Brita Sigourney smacked hard into the slush during her first finals run, Bowman ditched her skis and sprinted up the hill to make sure she was OK. When Sigourney recovered only to see her shot at a podium end with a minor mistake at the end of her second run, it was Bowman who grabbed her friend and gave her a hug.
That's just how it is in a sport that focuses more on sisterhood than the competitive reach for gold. "The girls I've been riding with have been awesome," Bowman said. "We're so close. We travel together. We live together. We just have grown so close. It's fun every time we get to watch each other go down the halfpipe."
They were all watching as Bowman strung together a series of difficult twisting jumps. Her braid in perpetual motion as she sped from trick to trick, Bowman was the picture of serenity even as her stomach churned.
Bowman clicked her heels together after victory and savored a moment that can't be taken away no matter what lies ahead. She is the first-ever gold medalist in a sport she plans to help carry into the future.
"I think all the girls came out here and showed the world who we are and what we do," Bowman said. "I think everyone should be proud of that tonight."