“I cannot believe it. I’m shaking right now, maybe from the cold, or from the excitement, I don’t know,” he told reporters after finishing his third run in the men’s slopestyle snowboarding event on Sunday. “But I’m ecstatic.”
Appearing in his first Olympics, Gerard and the others braved brutal wind conditions on the mountains of Pyeongchang. He had a spotty performance in the first two of his three runs — falling in both — but under the rules of the event, one great run was all he needed.
That’s what he delivered in his final time on the snow, earning an 87.16 score, ahead of Canada’s Max Parrot and Mark McMorris.
Slopestyle snowboarding, in which a rider performs a variety of tricks and jumps down a mixed-terrain course, not dissimilar to skateboarding, was introduced at the Games in 2014. An American has never not won gold there.
“After I landed the second jump I was like, ‘Come on, don’t blow it on the last one, let’s just make it through,’ ” Gerard said.
“The wind was really bad, and the first two runs it was pretty tough,” he said, “but we got a nice little break on the third and I’m just happy I got to land.”
“I can’t believe I got to land my run,” said Gerard, who came into the competition at the top of the world cup ranking. “Just to land a run would have been plenty for me and to get on the podium — but to get first is crazy.”
Close friend and fellow competitor Carlos Garcia Knight, of New Zealand, said Gerard’s victory “just goes to show anything can happen.”
“He’s a little guy and he’s just won the Olympics. It’s crazy,” Knight said.
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Raised in Silverthorne, Colorado, the sixth of seven siblings, Gerard is now the youngest American man to medal at the Winter Olympics in nearly a century (since 1928).
He is also the youngest snowboarding gold medalist period — a significant accomplishment for any athlete, especially one for whom the sport can sometimes sound like a lark.
Speaking to PEOPLE in the fall, before he qualified for Pyeongchang, Gerard said he didn’t recall the exact moment, if there was one, when he realized his snowboarding talent. “No, honestly. I’m always thinking day-by-day, I’ve never been the guy that thinks into the future,” he said.
“And I think all of a sudden it’s just like I got my first sponsor, Burton, and then I don’t know, it’s just kind of into it at that point,” he continued. “It was like, ‘Alright, well I’m having fun doing it,’ and I’m like, ‘I get to do online school now and not go to actual school.’ And it’s like I’m sticking with it and I ain’t got nothing else going.”
Of the possibility then that he would earn a spot on Team USA, Gerard said, “If I make it, I would love the opening ceremonies. That really interests me and just because it’s all of us right there in a big huge crowd, and they always have the crazy shows going on.”
“The snowboarding,” he said, would be “like a regular contest.”