Experience counts: Laffont gets gold on 2nd time around
PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (AP) — The practice round came four years ago in Sochi for Perrine Laffont, when she was old enough to make the Olympics, but too young to know any better.
As a 15-year-old, she finished 14th. No medal for that, though the lessons learned there certainly helped her take a mighty step this time — to the top of the podium, in fact.
Laffont gave France its first gold medal of the Pyeongchang Games, skiing through the bumps and the steadily falling snow to take the women’s moguls title Sunday night.
It was the country’s first women’s gold medal in the 26-year history of the event.
“In Sochi, it was for getting the experience of the Olympics, and today was pretty different,” Laffont said. “I was here to get a medal.”
Justine Dufour-Lapointe of Canada was, too. The defending champion took second this time, but in some ways, this was sweeter. It came in the midst of a rough year, during which her skiing suffered after she learned her mother, Johane, had cancer (she is now in remission).
“I feel so different than I was in Sochi,” Dufour-Lapointe said. “I was completely a kid then, not knowing what was going on around me.”
Yulia Galysheva, competing with a broken hand suffered last month at a contest in Utah, won bronze to give Kazakhstan its eighth Winter Games medal since it started competing separately after the breakup of the Soviet Union.
The Americans had a rough night. None made the six-woman final, and top-ranked Jaelin Kauf was the best finisher, in seventh.
Though Kauf and teammates Morgan Schild (15th) and Keaton McCargo (eighth) are older than the 19-year-old Laffont, the champion came to Pyeongchang with the Olympic experience they lacked.
“Seeing the huge crowd at the bottom was so cool, and it was amazing to take part in it,” Kauf said.
Her thoughts when she reached the bottom: “Could’ve done more. But also trying to learn from it and move forward.”
Several women said it was one of the toughest courses they’d ever skied on, and the steadily falling snow that blanketed the course throughout the evening did nothing to make it easier.
Laffont scored a 79.72 on a strong run through the powder, keeping her knees glued together and pointing downward, and landing both her jumps — a 360-degree spin and a back flip with her skis crossed — without a bobble.
She beat Dufour-Lapointe by more than two points. The Canadian’s sister, Chloe, who joined Justine on the medals stand in Sochi by winning silver, came in 17th this time.
Laffont, meanwhile, puts her name on a list of Olympic moguls champions that includes Hannah Kearney and Jenn Heil on the women’s side and Edgar Grospiron of France. Grospiron won the gold in the men’s contest in 1992, the year moguls were introduced to the Olympic program — and six years before Laffont was born.
No matter. Laffont played the role of the wily veteran on this night.
“There is so much pressure,” she said. “And so many people want you to be a champion. But it’s complicated to be a champion. It doesn’t look that hard, but it is hard.”
AP Sports Writer Will Graves contributed to this report.
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