Gold in the air for Swiss freestyler
Switzerland's aerial freestyler Evelyne Leu has qualified in first place for Monday's women's final.
With two near-perfect jumps in Saturday's qualification round, Leu flew into a league of her own, sparking hopes of another Swiss gold.
Leu, who lives in canton Zurich, scored an unbeatable 103.74 points with her first jump at the Deer Valley Olympic venue.
After leading with her first jump - a triple somersault with double twist - the 26-year-old consolidated on her second with a challenging triple-twist/triple-somersault. The judges were impressed, awarding her 99.42 points, to make a combined total of 203.16 - the highest score ever awarded to a female aerialist.
Swiss men just miss out
Leu's performance was matched only by second-highest qualifier, Australian Alisa Camplin, who scored 183.66.
But that success was not to be repeated by Leu's team mate Manuela Müller. She crashed during her first landing.
After a successful second jump, the Zurich resident finished second to last in 20th place with a combined score of 125.47, not enough to qualify for the 12-competitor final.
In the men's competition, both of Switzerland's competitors failed to qualify, one of them narrowly.
Christian Kaufmann started well, placing 10th after his first jump, with a score of 111.78. He then made small mistakes in his second jump, scoring 103.12 for the unlucky 13th place.
Compatriot Martin Walti opened with a shaky first jump that made qualification almost impossible. Walti crashed upon landing and could only manage 21st place with 81.9 points. He finished in 21st place after his second jump scored 78.97.
Test of courage
The Olympic aerial is one of the ultimate tests of ski-gymnastics, requiring flexibility, athleticism and courage.
The athletes hit the ski-jump at speeds of over 60 km per hour, catapulting themselves over four metres above the launch ramp before falling the equivalent of three or four storeys to the angled landing slope below.
Leu, apart from having to master the challenges of an increasingly complex sport – winners are expected to master triple and quadruple spins – now faces the growing pressure of national expectations, something she experienced at the 1998 Nagano Games.
Back then she was one of the only women in the world doing triples, and was expected to win. But that time around she botched her second qualification jump, landed short and lost both skis.
This year's Olympic venue holds good omens for Leu though. She recorded her first World Cup victory at Deer Valley in January 2001, after placing fourth the year before.
Speaking after qualifying, Leu said she felt confident and focused.
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