KRASNAYA POLYANA, RUSSIA – This was a high five Anton Kushnir will never forget.
Five spins into the frosty night air followed by a near-perfect landing gave Kushnir the gold medal Monday and wrapped up a sweep of aerials gold at the Sochi Olympics for Belarus.
He won it three nights after Alla Tsuper, who recently moved to Belarus from Ukraine, took the women’s gold.
“We managed to repeat the success,” Kushnir said. “I don’t know actually how this happened but I got the gold medal.”
Kushnir won with the biggest trick going in the game right now — the “back double full-full-double full,” which is five twists packed into three head-over-heels flips while he soars 15 meters off the ramp.
He earned a score of 134.5 for the trick to beat David Morris of Australia by more than 24 points.
A pair of Chinese jumpers, Qi Guangpu and Jia Zongyang, had a chance to better those scores, but both fell on the landings of their five-twist jumps.
Jia wound up with the bronze, but this was another disappointment for the country that regularly brings a handful of top-10 athletes into the Olympics, yet has walked away only with a pair of bronze medals since Han Xiaopeng took gold in 2006.
“It was quite sad that we didn’t get more medals than we actually did,” Jia said. “Probably we could have done better. We lost some good opportunities.”
Qi finished fourth, Wu Chao came in 11th and the world’s top-ranked jumper coming into the games, Liu Zhongqing, fell on both his qualifying jumps and finished last among the 21 skiers.
Belarus, meanwhile, keeps on finishing first.
This is the second straight men’s gold for the country. In 2010, Alexei Grishin won the title and got his picture on a postage stamp back home. On Monday, he didn’t make it through qualifying. Maybe Kushnir will replace him on the stamp.
“I’d be happy if that happens,” he said. “I’d never thought about that.”
Though the Olympics have been won with five twists before — Ales Valenta back in 2002 — it was the late Jeret “Speedy” Peterson who set the bar with his “Hurricane” trick — a more difficult five-twister, in which three of the twists come during the middle flip.
He won silver with that in 2010. That, combined with a new competition format in which the skiers need to keep increasing their level over four or five jumps in one night, inspired more skiers to double down on versions of their own five-twisters for this Olympic cycle.
Kushnir said he’d landed one at a World Cup contest in 2009, but not since.
He finished 15th at the 2010 Olympics and the past four years have been a series of injuries and false starts.
He got healthy in time for Sochi, and had the trick in the bag if he needed it.
“To be honest, we’ve been preparing this jump for quite a long time,” he said.
The only man of the four finalists who didn’t try five spins was Morris, who executed his four-spin jump cleanly and sat on the side watching his score of 110.41 hold up for silver.
Quite a victory for men’s aerials in a country that focuses on the women in this sport. Lydia Lassila took bronze Friday for Australia’s fourth Olympic aerials medal since 2002.
“I’m the only guy doing it in the country. I’m the men’s team,” Morris said. “But hopefully, people will come up and say, ‘Hey I want to do that. It looks stupid.’ ”
The sport has a bigger following in Belarus and Kushnir is the new top man.
He knew something good had happened as soon as he landed. He delivered an uppercut to the air and covered his mouth with his hands.