BONGPYEONG, South Korea — For Maggie Voisin, four years of waiting had distilled into 20 minutes of excruciation, of watching one skier after the next fall out of the sky and then wondering. She knew she had salvaged her competitive debut at the Olympics, a day of skiing below her world-class standard but still maybe good enough for a bronze medal, thanks to an electric final run. But just maybe — she had to keep waiting.
Voisin, the 19-year-old reigning Winter X Games champion in women’s slopestyle skiing, entered the PyeongChang Olympics among the favorites. When she qualified in 12th place for the 12-skier finals, sneaking in by the slimmest margins, it meant a shock, a relief and a disadvantage: Voisin would have to go first in the finals, so any prizes would be determined, ultimately, by the field of skiers who came after her.
Four years after a last-minute injury knocked her out of the Sochi Olympics, Voisin missed a medal by the cruelest of margins. She finished fourth, unexpectedly missing the podium, when Britain’s Isabel Atkin topped her 81.20 final score with a sparkling 84.60. Atkins would hold for bronze, behind gold medalist Sarah Hoefflin and silver winner Mathilde Gremaud, both of Switzerland.
“Fourth is definitely bittersweet,” Voisin said. “I just got to take away the positives. Small wins.”
There were small wins. Voisin did not perform as well as expected. Even her father, Truby, said, “She didn’t ski that well today.” But she did land that splendid final run, executing three consecutive 980s, just how she wanted, and that had been a run years in the making.
Voisin grew up in Whitefish, Mont., and moved to Park City, Utah, at 14 to devote herself to skiing. She lived with a host family, took eighth-grade courses online, trained like a professional and often cooked her own meals. “Sometimes,” Voisin said last year, “I feel like I can’t relate to people my own age.”
Voisin qualified for the 2014 Sochi Olympics at 15, which put her on track to become the youngest Winter Olympian since 1972. While training in Sochi, though, Voisin crashed and broke her right fibula, forcing her to watch a competition in which many expected, despite her age, she would contend.
“She was 15,” her mother Kristin Voisin said. “She was devastated. It was a lot of pressure — the town, everybody. She was at the top of her game there, too. Coming home, it was tough. She’d leave the house and put on this face. I think inside, though, there was this inner turmoil. It was just sadness.”
Voisin healed by dedicating herself to recovery. She loves freestyle skiing, and she wanted to return at her best for the next Olympics. “That was her goal,” Truby Voisin said. “She’s got that fight.”
On Friday, Voisin posted a picture of herself from four years ago on Instagram. She was carrying skis, fully decked out for a run, walking in front of a Sochi 2014 log. “After what happened in Sochi I can’t believe I’m dropping into my first @olympics tomorrow,” she wrote. “It’s time to have some funnn!”
“It’s definitely been a roller coaster of a four years,” Voisin said after the qualifying round. “I’m just grateful for it all, the ups and downs. It’s made who I am, and it’s gotten me here right now. Dropping in this morning, I just had to remember and tell myself, ‘Whatever happens, happens.’ I just got to stay true to what skiing means to me, and just be the best representative of our sport possible.”
Shockingly, Voisin had to sweat just to make the 12-skier final. She missed some grabs on her jumps, which caused judges to deduct points. The score, a 72.80, placed in her in the middle of the pack. Her second run followed a similar pattern, and she received a 73, seemingly inconsequential improvement. Voisin would have to wait and worry.
“Hopefully, it holds,” Voisin said after her second qualifying run. “I definitely have a lot more to give.”
Voisin dropped all the way to 12th place, the last finals spot available, when Meehyun Lee, a Pennsylvanian of Korean heritage competing for South Korea, dropped. Lee, the third-to-last rider, skied a run similar in quality to Voisin’s. She and Voisin waited for the judge’s ruling, a video camera fixed on Lee. “I felt like I was standing there for ages,” Lee said.
At last, the score flashed: 72.80. The minuscule improvement from Voisin’s first run to her second had granted her survival.
“That was the worst,” Kristin said. “That was intense. I didn’t expect her to be in that spot.”
Voisin, though, did not immediately right herself, tumbling in the first of three finals runs. Voisin almost nailed her second finals, but just barely missed landing her final jump. It would come down her last run. “Okay, Maggie,” she told herself. “You got this.”
Voisin cruised through the rail section. She landed the three consecutive 980s, her pink skis crossed into an X as she executed three full rotations some 30 feet in the air, then landed facing backward. On the base of the hill, Voisin jumped on her skis and pumped her fists.
And then: the waiting. Her score held up for six skiers, including American defending silver medalist Devin Logan, who tumbled and finished 10th. Every run brought another wave of nerves, every score reveal fresh anxiety. “I aged 10 years,” Truby said. And then came Atkin’s spotless run, and the waiting ended.
Voisin will now wait four more years, at which point she’ll be 23, to win the medal she thought she might win at 15. She had competed, and she had landed her trick, and she had felt inspired by a new point of reference — women’s slopestyle had evolved so much, and level of tricks pulled off here pushed the sport forward. Voisin will be back someday. She can’t wait.
“Putting down that run was all I could ask for,” Voisin said. “It would have been great to be up there on the podium. But you got to take away the small wins.”
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