PYEONGCHANG, SOUTH KOREA – After qualifying in top spot for the third and last final of the night, the 20-year-old Hara appeared as if he might take the honor of being Japan’s first gold medalist of the games, but came up short as Canada’s Mikael Kingsbury and Australian Matt Graham grabbed gold and silver, respectively.
Hara made a valiant effort to score 82.19 points as the last skier of the night, claiming a podium as a slew of competitors fell on the Phoenix Snow Park slope.
“I am just so happy,” said Hara. “It’s a relief because I had struggled so much until now. Last year, I didn’t have any good performances and this is my first podium finish. My heart is filled with joy.”
Kingsbury saved his best run for last after two strong, but relatively risk-free efforts, reaching the final field of six where he put down an insurmountable 86.63-point effort.
The Canadian, who took the silver in this event at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, became the fifth skier to win two Olympic medals in men’s moguls. Graham, who scored 82.57, became only the second Australian medalist in men’s moguls after Canadian-born Dale Begg-Smith, who won gold in 2006 and silver in 2010.
Hara, who was lacking in both speed and jump scores compared to Kingsbury and Graham, became the first man from his country to medal in freestyle skiing. He is the first man or woman to win a medal in the discipline since Tae Satoya took bronze at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics.
Japan’s Sho Endo made an impressive 82.72-point run in the first final but disaster struck on his second, as it did for reigning moguls world champion Ikuma Horishima.
Horishima was the first to take a heavy fall when he veered out of his channel and tumbled to the snow on his second run, while Endo became the final victim of the round in another spill.
“I am disappointed, but I gave it a full effort. The mistake I made happened when I was trying to attack, so I don’t have any regrets like I had before,” said Endo, who came 15th in Sochi.
The 20-year-old Horishima, who was making his Olympic debut, said, “I had confidence when I started but I hit a snag going into my first air and never recovered as I made a big mistake. I really felt the harsh reality of the world of competition.”