Before Saturday's snowboard big air final, Kyle Mack had never landed a frontside double cork 1440 with a double tail grab (also known as a bloody Dracula). He had tried the trick a few times in practice and taken a couple of memorable slams. One year ago, at the Olympic big air test event, he landed a version of the trick for the first time in competition -- a frontside double cork 1080 bloody Dracula -- which he began adding to his snowboard slopestyle runs. But Mack knew he needed to add another spin if he wanted a shot at being one of the first medalists in big air, an event that was debuting at the Pyeongchang Games.
"I was at the top [of the jump] contemplating whether I should do the bloody 14 or just do a tail grab," Mack said. "But bringing style into snowboarding is the thing I've always worked on. Big air has always been one of the most progressive events for snowboarding, but I wish it was more about style and grabs and the technical stuff. That's something I want to keep fighting for. Before I dropped in for my second run, I was like, I'm doing this for snowboarding."
In his first run, Mack landed a backside triple cork 1440 with a Japan grab and scored an 82, which put him in fourth after the initial runs were completed. Because riders are given three runs to land two different tricks, one fall can force a rider to change up his strategy. Mack knew he had more consistent tricks in his repertoire that he could attempt on his second run, but he also wanted to do something to set himself apart from his peers. Mack is a talented athlete with the ability to push the progression of his sport, but he also cares that as snowboarding tricks progress, they maintain an element of style.
"Ever since I saw Nils Mindnich do that grab, I thought it was such a sick trick," Mack said of the bloody Dracula. "Since I started doing it, it's gotten more hype and people have realized how hard it is to do the trick and the grab together. I was stoked it all came together today. It was mind-blowing. As I was riding down the landing, I was like, 'Wow, I did it.' I'm so stoked to show everyone what I can do."
Mack's silver medal might have been a win for snowboarding, but snowboarding has been a bright spot for the United States. Four of Team USA's nine gold medals and seven of its 23 overall medals have been won by snowboarders. Throw in the freeskiing team, and five of nine gold medals and half of all of the American medals have been won by the U.S. snowboard and freeski teams.
"These sports really cater to creativity and doing things differently than everybody else," said ski halfpipe gold medalist David Wise. "As Americans, we have rebel in our blood. That's who we are. It defines us as a culture. We had a really strong group of four American skiers in halfpipe, and our runs looked completely different. That's why we're so strong."
And while it's no surprise the U.S. has performed so well in snowboarding and freeskiing in Pyeongchang, that doesn't mean it was an easy task. And at each Olympics, it only becomes harder to do.
"Every year, it gets harder and harder to stay on top," said U.S. snowboard and freeskiing head coach Mike Jankowski. "There are more and more nations putting a ton of funding and effort into these sports, and it takes every bit of everything to stay on top. Everybody's coming for us. We've got targets on our back, but we like it that way."
Jankowski knows it will only be harder for his athletes four years from now, but his athletes are up for the challenge.
"I'm super-stoked at how we're all doing," Mack said. "We have such a strong team, and we're all still so young and have so much time to progress. I expect to see us back at the next Olympics still going strong."