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An American woman won a snowboard slopestyle medal. She just wasn’t the one expected to.

Julia Marino won silver in the women's slopestyle competition Sunday morning. (Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)
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ZHANGJIAKOU, China — That the United States’ first medal of the Beijing Olympics came in slopestyle snowboarding was no surprise at Genting Snow Park: Americans have dominated the sport since its introduction in the Winter Games in 2014. The surprising element was the medalist herself.

Julia Marino won the first Olympic medal of her career Sunday, a silver in the women’s slopestyle competition with a score of 87.68 in her second of three runs.

A 24-year-old whose 11th-place finish in a taxing competition in the PyeongChang Olympics four years ago fell far below her own expectations, Marino bested an American medal favorite in Jamie Anderson (eighth place) and an American with an arguably bigger reputation in Hailey Langland (11th place). Marino’s medal shows the depth of Team USA’s snowboarding prowess.

Marino fell on her first run, but in a competition in which the only the best single-run score out of three counts for each competitor, she posted a score on her second time through that led the field until the very last run of the day. That was by Zoi Sadowski-Synnott, the reigning X Games champion and gold-medal favorite, who landed her final trick to cap a soaring, monster performance. Sadowski-Synnott’s score of 92.88 made her New Zealand’s first Winter Olympic gold medalist.

All three women on the podium executed runs that included at least one 900 and one 1080. Sadowski-Synnott’s and Marino were followed by Australian Tess Coady, whose 84.15 earned bronze. She became her country’s first female Olympian to win a snowboarding medal.

When Sadowski-Synnott nailed her final jump with a resounding thwack and raised her hands in victory, Marino and Coady ran out and tackled her in a squishy dogpile of parka-clad riders.

“Just getting a medal here in general means so much; last Olympics was pretty tough,” Marino said. “ … I just took the last four years to kind of regroup and figure out what I wanted to do and work hard on gettin’ some new tricks dialed in. It just all prepared me for this moment, and it feels really good.”

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The man-made snow at these Olympics made the course hard to read and contributed to countless falls throughout the final. Olympic courses are bigger and have jumps that snowboarders don’t see at any other courses on their circuit, and Marino spent the last minutes of the final cheering on her fellow riders.

“It was a really hard course and a technical course, and I was just happy that everyone made it through there,” Marino said. “Not only made it through, but put down their best run that they possibly could. For me, it was kind of just [enjoying] the rest of the show.”

It was quite a show to take in, thanks to Sadowski-Synnott. The 20-year-old Kiwi ended her final run with a signature double-cork 1080 — two off-axis flips and three full rotations — followed by a backside 1080. She is the first snowboarder to add an Olympic gold to a world and X Games title in less than a year.

“I did make a bit of a mistake on that run by taking too much speed into that last jump but in the air, I just knew that I had to land it with everything I had in me,” Sadowski-Synnott said. “And I’ve done that trick so many times that I knew that I could do it. Man, I was so stoked that I did.”

Sunday’s final featured all three medalists from the 2018 Winter Games, with Anderson (gold), Canada’s Laurie Blouin (silver) and Finland’s Enni Rukajarvi (bronze) having qualified with relatively little drama the day before.

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Entering the race, most eyes in the snowboarding world were focused directly on Sadowski-Synnott and Anderson.

But Anderson’s quest to become the first snowboarder to win three consecutive gold medals in an event officially ended after a fall on her third run left her shaking her head. The 31-year-old was poised to break her tie with three-time medalist Shaun White, also a competitor in Beijing in men’s halfpipe, to become the most decorated Olympic snowboarder ever. Anderson entered the final with her two slopestyle gold medals and one silver in big air from the 2018 Games. Instead, she finished in ninth place out of 12 finalists with a 60.78

Langland wasn’t able to complete a clean run in her three tries and finished 11th.

“I feel of course so sad to not be able to put down a run,” Anderson said. “ … I genuinely feel so happy for the girls, I’m so happy for Jules, she laced her run and I know she really needed this — and I’m really happy for Zoi and Tess and just to see where and how far snowboarding has come for the girls. Even if I was a little bit of that inspiration for the girls, I feel so proud and so grateful.”