At home, he's always second-to-last, the penultimate sibling in the Gerard family lineup. But on a slopestyle course, Red Gerard typically ranks near the top. On Saturday afternoon, the 17-year-old from Silverthorne, Colorado, became the lone U.S. rider to qualify into Sunday's snowboard slopestyle finals, while his mom, dad and all six of his siblings cheered him on from the friends and family section at the bottom of the course.
"I was just psyched to land a run," said Gerard, who finished third in the second heat of 18 riders, good enough for one of 12 spots in the final. "It's a lot of pressure. I don't want to have them come all this way for me and not land a run. I'm happy I was able to do that and happy they got to join me on this experience."
Early in the day, riders struggled with visibility issues and high, inconsistent winds, as well as bitter cold temperatures, but the sun broke through and the winds calmed before the second heat. Despite the tough conditions, multiple riders landed 1440s and all four riders from the stacked Norwegian and Canadian teams, including top qualifier Max Parrot, recent X Games champ Marcus Kleveland and seven-time X Games winner Mark McMorris, qualified into Sunday's final.
"I'm happy we had three days of practice because this course is crazy," Gerard said. "There are so many rails, it looks like a jungle. I finally figured things out, but it took a while."
The rails section of the course, which was designed and built by German-based Schneestern Snowparks, is without a doubt unique, but several riders found it difficult to navigate and went down before their runs really began. The rails are positioned tightly together and some of the more technical riders struggled to find a simple line that would allow them to perform their most difficult tricks. "The rails were tight, but we all have to ride the same course and adapt," said U.S. rider Ryan Stassel, who fell in both of his runs in the first heat. "This is the Olympics. We told them we wanted a lot of options to allow us to be creative and show our artistic side, and they did that. I just wasn't able to execute."
The unique rail section also forced riders to trade technical tricks for clean, creative lines, something that played to Gerard's strengths. Known for his innovative rail tricks, his line was one of the most imaginative of the day. "It takes a lot of strategy," he said. "I wanted to do things no one was doing."
Sunday, he'll attempt to do something none of his teammates were able to do -- become the second American rider to medal in slopestyle at the Olympics. In 2014, American Sage Kotsenburg won gold in the event's Olympic debut and has since traded competitive snowboarding for big-mountain riding. "I don't know what's going to happen tomorrow," Gerard said. "It's going to be a crazy final."
No matter how Gerard finishes, his 18-person cheering squad, which includes his siblings' significant others and a few cousins, will be posted up at the bottom of the course, posters in hand, ready to celebrate how far he has already come. "I wanted him to make it to finals, but we're all here just to have fun," Gerard's mom, Jen Gerard, said. "I told Red before he went out to compete this morning, 'Just ride like you're having fun with your brothers. Keep it fun. It doesn't matter how it all goes.'"
So far, it's going pretty well.