PYEONGCHANG, South Korea—Kyle Mack and Red Gerard met at the end of a long snow-fenced chute at the bottom of the Alpensia Skiing Centre’s Big Air hill. Gerard, a gold medalist earlier in the Games, was wearing a gray flannel shirt buttoned all the way to the neck. Mack, on the other hand, was sporting something a little more stylish: an American flag draped around his shoulders.
The two friends embraced, the kind of hug you lay on a friend when simple congratulations aren’t anywhere near enough, and then posed for some photos. They’re both Olympic medalists, Mack having just nailed down a silver in Big Air, and combined, they’re all of 37 years old.
New to the Olympics this year, Big Air is one of the many X-Games events that’s made the leap into the Games. And, like most X-Games events, it’s a thoroughly youth-oriented event, cramming gut-crushing terror into an instant-win package. Snowboarders get three chances to land their two most insane tricks, with the best two combining for a total score.
Canadians were expected to sweep the podium at PyeongChang, but it didn’t quite work out that way. In addition to Mack’s silver, the United States took three of the top five places, with Chris Corning taking fourth and Gerard fifth. Canada’s Sebastian Toutant won gold, while Great Britain’s Billy Morgan finished with the bronze.
Mack nailed down the silver with a move called “Bloody Dracula,” where the rider grabs the back of his snowboard and executes a 1440—five 360-degree turns—while trying to avoid the wicked face plant (e.g. the source of the blood) that follows if one screws up the trick.
“In practice I gave it a couple of attempts, but I could never actually land it and get the grab at the same time, so to land it in the second run was mind blowing,” Mack said. “The whole reason I wanted to do snowboarding is to bring style into snowboarding, it’s the main thing I’ve always worked at. So I’m at the top and I’m always wondering whether I should do bloody (Dracula) or just the tail (grab) and I was like, ‘I’m doing it for snowboard,’ and I just did the bloody Dracula and it worked out.”
Meanwhile, Gerard brushed off suggestions that his whirlwind tour—gold medal, media blitz in the United States, return to South Korea—had anything to do with his placement.
“We do so many contests a year and I try to think of Olympics as another one,” Gerard said. “I was there for such a short time coming back, I wasn’t even jet-lagged. It was easy.”
The snowboarding contingent will wrap the Olympics as far and away the most successful of any American contingent, and the team with the brightest future. “We’re killing it right now, I’m super stoked on how we’ve all done with (gold medalists) Chloe Kim, Red Gerard, Jamie Anderson,” Mack said. “We have such a strong team right now that it’s so sweet, and we’re all still so young, so we have so much time to progress. And I expect all of us will be back at the next one.”
And there’ll be a kid out there who’s 13 years old right now who’s got their eyes on knocking all of them off. That’s the way this goes.