France’s 20-year-old Tess Ledeux – a firm contender to challenge odds-on favourite Eileen Gu for multiple podium places at the upcoming Beijing Olympic Winter Games – made history on Saturday (22 January) by becoming the first woman to win big air and slopestyle freeski gold medals at the same X Games event.
It was a day that also so Beijing 2022 podium hopeful Kelly Sildaru pull out after a fall in the rail section.
“It’s just a dream come true,” said Ledeux after winning her first X Games slopestyle gold only days after topping the podium at a slopestyle world cup event in Font-Romeu in her native France. "I’m so happy and it’s just amazing. This has to be the best week of my life.”
Ledeux, who looked comfortable in the rails and stomped some huge airs on the Aspen course, is a two-time world champion (slopestyle in 2017 and Big Air in 2019). She's also won eight world cups and three X Games golds.
She recently talked to Olympics.com about her tactics for coping with stress and expectation and was similarly open about the disappointment she suffered at her first trip to the Olympics Games -- at the tender age of 16.
“My Olympic experience in PyeongChang (2018) wasn't amazing. It was far below my expectations," she said in an exclusive interview. "I went there with a lot of dreams and everything came crashing down. I really wanted it to work and I had never really experienced failure before in my career.
"It was the first real blow I had experienced and it was difficult to come back from,” she added.
In the qualifying round in her first Winter games, Ledeux fell on her second run and didn’t make it to the final, finishing 15th in an event won by Switzerland's Sarah Hoefflin.
"I don't have fabulous memories (of PyeongChang 2018), but it was still a very important part of my career," Ledeux added. "I know that if I hadn’t been there, I wouldn’t be the skier I am today.”
A stronger skier, and now with all the techniques to cope with the big occasion, Ledeux could well be one of the women with a chance at thwarting Gu’s hopes of winning three golds from three events (halfpipe, slopestyle and big air) next month in Beijing.
Sildaru withdraws after rare fall
Ledeux was the direct beneficiary of some bad luck that befell gold-medal contender Sildaru of Estonia.
After winning the women’s freeski halfpipe competition on Friday 21 January, 19-year-old Sildaru’s second day at the Aspen X Games lasted only a few seconds.
She passed on her second run after suffering a hard fall in her first -- where she caught a ski edge on the first rail of the course. Sildaru didn't turn out for her third run either, having notified competition officials that she would be withdrawing from competition.
With the Beijing Games right around the corner, the timing of the withdrawal couldn’t be worse for the Estonian who's won a pair of slopestyle golds (and one in big air) in the current world cup season. And after Friday's halfpipe win, she surpassed previous record-holders Shaun White (snowboard) and Nyjah Huston (street skateboarding) to become the athlete with the most X Games medals won as a teenager.
While no specific reason was given for the withdrawal, Sildaru, who was forced to pull out on the eve of the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Games with a knee injury, only just recently fully recovered from a broken thumb suffered late in 2021.
The last competition before these Aspen X Games – the U.S. Grand Prix on Mammoth Mountain where Sildaru won slopestyle gold – was the first time since sustaining the injury that the Estonian was able to use poles in the pipe or on the slopestyle course.
And while Ledeux basks in the limelight as the Beijing Games grow ever-nearer, there are, suddenly, more question marks than answers for Sildaru.