Maddie Bowman of the United States claimed the gold medal in the freestyle… (Streeter Lecka / Getty Images )
SOCHI, Russia — Halfpipe history was coming down to Maddie Bowman of the U.S. or Marie Martinod of France, and the space right behind the interview area was a curious mosh pit of fun, frolicking and fretting.
Bowman, of South Lake Tahoe, had bettered her first effort, scoring 89.00 on her second run, sending a group of French fans and Bowman supporters into a frenzy of singing and chanting.
It all came down to one final run for Martinod, the final skier on this Thursday night. She crafted a stellar, artistic run but it wasn't enough for gold, only silver with 85.40 points.
Bowman's family and friends seized control of the celebration. Front and center was Bowman's grandmother, Lorna Perpall, a woman with a good singing voice and the proud owner of a T-shirt with the words: "Bad Ass Grandma."
"I had a dream about nine months ago and it just Maddie got gold," Perpall said. "I thought, 'Well, that's my wishful thinking.'
"Maddie was the one that gave me the name. She was being interviewed on a public radio station. The interviewer said, 'It sounds like you and your grandmother are very close.' And Maddie said, 'Oh yeah. She's one badass grandma.'"
The Olympics is not only about competition but also about family. And the 20-year-old Bowman, the youngest free skier in the final, had her grandmother, brother, and her ski-coach parents, Bill and Sue, on hand to witness her gold.
Said Sue: "[Lorna] always told us, if you can sidestep and kick turn, you can ski anything. That's what she told us when we were little."
Bill admitted he was nervous throughout qualifying and the long break before the final.
"She did fall in between the qualifying and finals one time," he said. "Yard sale. So then I was worried. I was upset she fell. My mantra, I just tell her to stick every run, every hit.
"And she did. It's amazing.... She handles pressure great. She invites it. She gets her determination from her mom, and her guts. I gave her a little bit of athletic ability, I think."
Maddie displayed her grandmother's straightforward nature, talking about winning the gold medal and how she felt dropping in for her first run.
"This doesn't really seem real to me," Bowman said. "Before I was dropping in, I felt like I was going to barf on my first run. By the second run, I had calmed down a little bit and it worked out."
She was asked if the late Sarah Burke of Canada was the real winner of the first women's freeski halfpipe on Thursday night.
"I would absolutely say that. Sarah's inspired us on snow and off snow," Bowman said. "I think she would have been very proud of how all the girls rode tonight.
"I sure hope I and everyone else made her proud because we would not be here without her."
Burke was one of the leaders in the push to get the freestyle skiing events into the Olympics. She died in a training accident two years ago, and the skiers wanted to honor her by wearing decals on their helmets but were prevented by the International Olympic Committee from doing so.
Burke also inspired the silver medalist, Martinod, who has a 4-year-old daughter, to return to competitive freeskiiing after a prolonged break.
"I'm thinking of Sarah every day," said Martinod, who had the top score after qualifying. "I think I didn't say goodbye to Sarah yet and I still have to do it. Now I feel like I am able to do it because I did what she asked me to do when I last saw her two years ago."