Competing with broken hand and no poles, China's Gu Ailing Eileen soars to freeski halfpipe title at worlds

The Chinese teenager has her first world title as Nico Porteous captured the men's freeski halfpipe. Both athletes were competing after broken bones had disrupted their preparations.

By Nick McCarvel
Picture by 2021 Getty Images

No poles, no problem for China's Gu Ailing Eileen.

At the FIS Snowboard and Freeski World Championships in Aspen with a broken hand, the 17-year-old Youth Olympic and X Games champion was competing without poles for the first time. That didn't stop her.

Gu soared to a 93.00 in the freestyle halfpipe women's final, holding off final run efforts from Canada's Rachael Karker (91.75) and Zoe Atkin of Great Britain (90.50).

Gu had three of the top five scores of the day, hitting a 92.50 and 89.00 in her second and third runs after registering her 93.00 to start the day.

"I feel so so good. I broke my hand a few weeks ago, I have torn UCL ligament and a broken pointer finger so this is my first time ever competing without poles," Gu told FIS after her victory. "I wasn't sure how comfortable I'd feel with that. I definitely was really struggling on qualifying day and during training before that so it shook up my confidence a little bit. But dropping in today I was really feeling it. It's so amazing. I'm really excited to come back and show the world I can ski well even with this."

In the men's freeski halfpipe, New Zealand's Nico Porteous became his country's first world title-holder in a freeski event, his first-run 94.50 bettering Simon D'Artois of Canada at 91.25 and American Birk Irving's 89.75.

Porteous won bronze in the same event at PyeongChang 2018, and in January of this year had captured X Games gold on the same pipe. He broke his foot days later, not returning to the pipe until training this week at worlds.

Men: Nico Porteous is world champ

Already his country's youngest Olympic medallist (16 years, 91 days) from PyeongChang, Porteous was flying high from an X Games win in January before breaking his foot two days later. The freeskier said he didn't practice until this week in Aspen, stuck at home for a month.

"I went through a crazy high at the X Games with the result there. Two days later breaking my foot. It was a low period. I was stuck at home for a month and couldn't do anything," Porteous told FIS.

"First day of training (this week) was my first day back in the pipe and my foot was feeling good; a little sore. I'm absolutely stoked; this pipe has been so good to me." - Nico Porteous

Earlier in the day, Porteous' fellow Kiwi Zoi Sadowski Synnott had won the snowboard slopestyle event, becoming the first snowboarder to capture the event in back-to-back years.

Porteous was amped after his 94.50 on the first run, a score that would hold up for two more as D'Artois registered his 91.25 in run 2 and Irving's 89.75 came in the first run, as well.

Two-time Olympic champion in freeski halfpipe David Wise looked poised to disrupt the podium on his final run, only to bobble the landing on his final trick, eventually falling. "That didn't just happen!" He said as he finished. Then, joking to the TV camera: "Can we do four runs?"

He finished in 10th of ten competitors. His American teammate Aaron Blunck, the two-time world champ in this event, was fifth.

Sochi 2014 bronze medallist Kevin Rolland was eighth, while PyeongChang silver medallist Alex Ferreira was fourth.

Women: Gu goes strength to strength before Beijing

It's hard to argue with Gu's dominance as the teen hit three of the five best runs of the day. Atkin, in the penultimate run of the competition, put down her 90.50, only to watch Karker, the final skier of the third run, hopscotch her with a 91.75.

2018 Olympic bronze medallist Brita Sigourney of the U.S. was fifth. Her American teammate Hanna Faulhaber was fourth.

Gu won her first World Cup in 2019, then followed that up with golds at Lausanne 2020 in both big air and halfpipe, having switched to represent China - her mother's birth country. She made a splash in her X Games debut in January, winning both the halfpipe and slopestyle events while also capturing bronze in big air.

Her world title is the first in freeski for China.

In February, Gu spoke about her goals and perspectives ahead of Beijing 2022 in an Olympics Instagram Live with Ash Tulloch:

"My biggest goal, honestly, is to enjoy the journey and enjoy the process because I'm so young," she said. "Every day in my life I learn something new. Being able to have the Olympics as a long-term goal to drive that passion is something that I'm so grateful for. When I actually get to the Olympics, hopefully through that process, through that zest for life, through that passion for the sport, I will have prepared to the best of my ability so that on the day I can perform the way that I hope to."