KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — This one was for Sarah.
Her braid whipping in the chilly mountain air, American Maddie Bowman soared to the first gold medal in women's Olympic halfpipe freestyle skiing Thursday, edging Marie Martinod of France in the final on a night the sport paid tribute to late Canadian freestyle skiing icon Sarah Burke.
Burke, a leading advocate of adding several events, including halfpipe, to the Olympic program, died after a training accident in 2012. Her parents, Gordon Burke and Jan Phelan, watched as Bowman made history.
"It was Sarah's dream to be here," Phelan said. "So, it's here. The halfpipe is opening for the women, and I miss her like crazy."
The athletes Burke championed tried to rise to the occasion, Bowman in particular. "Sarah has inspired us on snow or off snow," Bowman said. "I hope I and all the other girls made her proud. We wouldn't have been here without her."
Bowman, 20, showed some of Burke's tenaciousness in the final.
She was just third in qualifying but found a rhythm in the medal round after overcoming jitters that 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.
Bowman's first final run scored 85.80 points and put pressure on Martinod, who led qualifying. Bowman's second trip through the halfpipe was even better. She clasped the side of her helmet in disbelief, then sat and waited to see if Martinod or American teammate Brita Sigourney could top her.
Sigourney, who washed out in her first final run, appeared ready to threaten Bowman before her backside skimmed the snow with only one jump off the 22-foot halfpipe left to complete her run. That left Martinod, 29, who retired in 2007 but returned in 2012 at the urging of Burke.
Martinod's 85.40 earned silver. Japan's Ayana Onozuka got bronze. Sigourney was sixth.
Bowman's gold was the sixth for the United States in sports that gained notoriety in the X Games and the 12th medal overall in extreme sports (seven in freestyle skiing). She was joined by teammate David Wise, who won gold in the men's halfpipe competition Tuesday, atop the medal stand.
"This is first time a lot of people in this world saw what we do and why we love it," Bowman said.