February 20, 2014 at 1:00 am

Thursday's Olympics roundup: Halfpipe pioneer honored as American takes gold

Maddie Bowman of Team USA competes in Thursday's halfpipe finals. (Franck Fife / Getty Images)

Freestyle skiing

This one was for Sarah.

Her braid whipping in the chilly mountain air, American Maddie Bowman soared to the inaugural gold medal in Olympic halfpipe skiing Thursday, paying tribute to late Canadian freestyle skiing icon Sarah Burke.

“Sarah has inspired us on snow or off snow,” said Bowman, who edged France’s Marie Martinod for the top spot. “I think she would have been very proud of how all the girls rode tonight. … I hope I and all the other girls made her proud. We wouldn’t have been here without her.”

Burke, a leading advocate of adding several events — including halfpipe — to the Olympic program, died following a training accident in 2012. Her parents, Gordon Burke and Jan Phelan, watched as Bowman made history.

Bowman showed some of Burke’s tenaciousness in the finals.

The 20-year-old was third during qualifying, but found a rhythm in the medal round after overcoming some jitters she joked made her want to “barf.”

Stringing along a dizzying series of spins and grabs, Bowman performed the two highest-scoring runs of the night, her massive braid slapping the side of her helmet each time.

“This is first time a lot of people in this world saw what we do and why we love it,” she said.

... The sport may be unpredictable. The results looked like anything but a free-for-all.

France. France. France. Vive la skicross.

Jean Frederic Chapuis led the first French medals sweep in Winter Olympics history, taking gold while Arnaud Bovolenta won silver and Jonathan Midol walked away with bronze.

“Two good friends; I can’t explain how it feels,” Midol said. “We had a dream to make the podium with friends.”

The three bolted ahead quickly in front of Canada’s Brady Leman, who briefly passed Midol for third before wiping out, giving the French a historic run.

Nordic combined

After failing to win a medal at the Vancouver Olympics, the country that spawned Nordic combined more than 125 years ago made quite a comeback in Sochi.

Norway won its second gold medal in three days after taking the large hill team event, which gave the Scandinavian country its fourth medal of the Games.

“We had a bit of a rough patch in Vancouver,” Joergen Graabak said. “To be able to take the gold and also three individual medals at these championships is unreal.”

Specialist Magnus Moan made up a 25-second deficit on the first leg as Norway outdueled Germany and defending champion Austria in the relay in which each team member skied 5 kilometers.

Norway, where soldiers first competed informally in ski jumping and cross-country skiing in the late 1800s, finished the relay in 47 minutes, 13.5 seconds.

Curling

Her gold medal-clinching rock wasn’t even halfway to the house when Canada skip Jennifer Jones put her hands to her face, soaked in the moment, then jumped up with her broom hoisted in the air.

She didn’t need to see the end result. After a 16-year wait, Canada’s women were Olympic champions.

“I thought, ‘Wow, just wow,’” Jones said. “‘We did it, we did it. We are gold medalists.’”

Canada denied Sweden a third straight Olympic title with a tension-filled 6-3 victory, completing an unbeaten campaign of 11 wins — an unprecedented achievement in the women’s game.

The gold medal fills the resume of Jones, who already has won world and multiple Canadian titles. It must rank her among the best female curlers in the sport’s history.

Does this make Jones the greatest skip in curling history?

“I would completely, 100 percent, agree,” teammate Jill Officer said. “I’ve felt that a long time.”

... Britain beat Switzerland for the bronze medal.

Medal musings

Ukrainian skier Bogdana Matsotska has withdrawn from the Olympics in response to the deaths of anti-government protesters in her country, saying “I don’t want to participate when in my country people die.”

She was expected to compete in today’s slalom, her best event.

At least 100 people died and 500 were injured in clashes in Kiev, hours after the government declared a truce in fighting that had shocked world leaders with the deaths of 28 people Tuesday.

The crisis began in November, when President Viktor Yanukovych reversed a decision to sign a trade deal with the European Union and instead turned toward Russia.

... International Skating Union president Ottavio Cinquanta is looking to make speedskating more exciting, considering things like mass start events and mixed team pursuit races.

Thursday's podium points

Gold: Stefan Luitz tripped over the last gate during the giant slalom Wednesday, tumbling across the finish line as one of his skis flew off. As the German lay on the snow, disqualified for straddling that final gate, one thought struck him. “You idiot,” he said. A little hard on himself, don’t you think? Maybe not. Luitz had a smooth performance going, and would’ve been second-fastest on the course heading into the final run, putting him in medal contention. “Happens,” Luitz said.

Silver: Just about every speedskater has been asked about the inability of the United States to win a medal. Questions typically touch upon the controversial suits the skaters swapped mid-competition. Maria Lamb took her disappointment to a higher level. “To have to watch (my teammates) be defeated — not so much by the fact that they’re not capable of more — but by some of the leadership in the organization is really heartbreaking to me,” she said after finishing last in the 5,000.

Bronze: Former Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori loves controversy. Known for making contentious comments while in office, he criticized Japanese figure skater Mao Asada’s performance in the short program, saying she has a habit of “always falling at the most critical time.” Asada scored 55.51 in the short program, but followed that with a 142.71 in the free skate for a 198.22 total and a sixth-place finish in the event. “I thought I could do it,” Asada said. “I tried my best.”