PYEONGCHANG, South Korea -- When Red Gerard gets his gold medal tonight, he may stand on the top of the podium by himself – but he didn’t get there alone.
After nailing his third and final slopestyle run to launch himself from eighth place to first, Red Gerard found himself surrounded by cheering teammates, coaches and perhaps loudest of all – his family.
“You know, just landing a run in general and then being lucky enough to get on the podium and then to win is crazy,” Gerard explained. “My whole family was here too and celebrated with me.”
The slopestyle event consists of three runs per individual, with the best score of three taken into account for final standings. Going into the event, Gerard had one goal:
“Most of all, I’d just like to land runs, to be honest. I mean, that’s all I really came here for – just to land a run,” he said after qualifiers. “And then maybe up some tricks too, that’d be awesome.”
After two runs, it wasn’t looking too good.
“He caught wind on run one and just straight aired jump two and jump three,” noted Dave Reynolds, co-coach of the U.S. Snowboarding Team. “Then, he fell on run two.”
Then it was all-or-nothing for run three.
He stood at the top of the slope knowing his whole family was watching – but rather than added pressure, he only felt support.
“It’s definitely crazy having a group of 17 people at the bottom of the slope run and knowing that they’re there. And if you were to fall on all three of your runs, that’d be a pretty big bummer, but I kind of know they’re always going to be there for me.”
His third run definitely wasn’t a bummer. Gerard landed a huge run, picking it up from qualifiers by landing a 1200 on his first jump, and then taking advantage of a break in the wind to land clean rails and jumps all the way down. His clean run scored him a strong 87.16 points.
“I was just really excited that I landed a run,” he admits.
After the run came the waiting game, as a few more boarders went down the course.
“Once I found out that I at least got third, I mean – that’s next level. First Olympics and to make it on the podium? That’s all I could ask for. That’s awesome.”
After the last athlete came down, he found out he had done more than just made the podium – he had won gold.
“I was honestly jaw-dropped… I’m still having a really hard time believing it,” he noted. His family, however, had no trouble believing it, cheering loudly as the final scores were announced.
“They were having a great time, as you guys probably saw,” he laughed, but he quickly turned serious when asked about what their support meant to him. “They helped me with everything. My brother Malakai has done kind of everything for me… They’re awesome. They’ve been there for me the whole time.”
He began snowboarding with his brother, Malakai, at just 2 years old – and he has been riding ever since. One of six children, he credits his brothers with his introduction to the sport.
“I always looked up to my brothers – family is everything to me,” he notes when asked about snowboarders he admires.
When his family moved from Ohio to Colorado when he was 7, he was able to spend even more time on the slopes. A few years ago, they built a snow park for him and his friends, complete with a rope tow and lights.
“I’d come home and ride the rope tow until night,” Gerard told NBC Sports. “I never thought I’d end up learning tricks in the backyard.”
The extra practice paid off. At just 17 years old, Gerard becomes the youngest U.S. snowboarder ever to win an Olympic medal, and the youngest snowboarding gold medalist of any nation since the sport was adding to the Olympic program 20 years ago. He has a chance at a second medal when he competes in big air on Feb. 21.
“That’ll be a show to watch,” he notes – and you can count on his family to be there watching as well. In the meantime, though, they are just focused on enjoying his first gold medal.
“Woohoo!” he exclaimed. “We did it!”
Not alone, but as a family.