Mike Minor was moved to tears.
Gurimu Narita stared at his winning time in disbelief.
Bibian Mentel-Spee received hugs all around.
All sorts of emotions filled the Jeongseon Alpine Centre, as the final day of snowboard at PyeongChang 2018 concluded with banked slalom competition on Friday (16 March).
The sport wrapped up its second Paralympic appearance but first for the discipline, where the best of three runs wins.
The USA dominated the podium, winning three of the five gold medals on offer. It included an impressive comeback performance from Minor in the men’s SB-UL category that had him in tears after he crossed the finish line.
The 27-year-old was the gold medal favourite but found himself sitting in fourth place with one run left. After having to settle for bronze in Monday’s snowboard-cross competition, Minor appeared close to missing the top spot again on Friday. But instead he smashed his third banked slalom run, shaving nearly three seconds off his fastest time to win in 50.77, a half second quicker than Austria’s silver medallist Patrick Mayrhofer.
"I just couldn't believe everything fell so perfectly into place when I needed it to most,” Minor said. “There was a lot of pressure on me before I came out of that gate at the top. I had one deep last breath before I went and told myself, 'It will be what it will be, run your lines and enjoy this race.’”
Mayrhofer’s finish was also a comeback story of its own, considering the 2015 world champion suffered a season-ending injury during training at the 2017 World Championships. Australia’s Simon Patmore added bronze to his gold medal in snowboard-cross.
"I had a very tough time in rehabilitation for more than seven months,” Mayrhofer said. “To be honest, I didn't expect to be back on a snowboard. I had to fight pretty hard to be back on a podium."
Minor’s medal was one of seven won by the USA on an icy Friday in Jeongseon.
His compatriot Noah Elliott also closed his final run in style. The 20-year-old set the standard with his first run and then went a second faster in his third to win the men’s SB-LL1 title, beating teammate and snowboard-cross Paralympic champion Mike Schultz.
The victory completed a breakthrough season for Elliott, who first picked up the sport two years ago and now leaves PyeongChang with two medals.
History was made for Croatia when Bruno Bosnjak took home the bronze for his country’s first medal at a Paralympic Winter Games.
Initially content with just being at the Paralympics, Mentel-Spee’s competitive nature returned for banked slalom, and so did the gold medal.
The Dutch snowboarder finished in champion fashion by winning the women’s SB-LL2 title, but admitted afterwards that PyeongChang might be her last Games.
"I was excited though a little bit concerned as well,” Mentel-Spee said about entering her third run. “I had no idea I could pull it off, but I had a really good talk with my coach and trainers and they all said, 'Bibian you can do it, just make a clean run, put the board more on the edge, go for it. You can do it.' I thought, 'It’s now or never,' and I pulled it off."
The women’s SB-LL2 came down to the final run that had Mentel-Spee, 45, bumped to third. Needing to beat the USA’s Brittani Coury’s time of 59.87, Mentel-Spee obliterated her third – and perhaps final – Paralympic run with a time of 56.94.
The multi-world and Paralympic champion clapped her hands and punched the air.
From zero expectations after undergoing cancer treatment and neck surgery during the season, Mentel-Spee now leaves PyeongChang with double gold.
“It’s good to know that I’m still capable of riding and pulling off two gold medals,” she said. “Anything is possible if you set your mind to it and just get the best out of yourself."
Dutch snowboarder Lisa Bunschoten was the last and biggest threat for Mentel-Spee, but was far from the gold medal time, as she finished in third.
History for Asia
In the first runs down the banked slalom, where riders were getting a feel for the icy slick course, Japan’s Narita attacked it head on. Run after run, his time kept dropping, going on to win a highly-contested men’s SB-LL2 category.
After his last run, the 24-year-old’s eyes were glued to the big screen. He was the only athlete to break 49 seconds, with 48.68 being the fastest of the entire field.
"Perfect feeling. I did a perfect run, I got first place. It's a perfect situation for me,” Narita said. "This is my dream, I want to show my sport to disabled people, injured people."
His gold medal gave Asia its first Paralympic snowboard title.
The USA’s Evan Strong – Sochi 2014 cross champion – gunned for gold in his final run but fell 0.52 seconds short, securing the silver. Finland’s world champion and Paralympic snowboard-cross winner Matti Suur-Hamari finished with bronze, 0.83 short of Narita’s time.
"It's stressful but it's fun to be able to perform under pressure,” Strong said about entering his final run.
"So many people put down fast times but it didn't make me feel like, 'Oh I am going slow,' it just gave me more data that the course is running faster. And I was like, 'Can I go faster? Absolutely I can go a lot faster,’” Strong said.
Huckaby holds on
The USA’s Brenna Huckaby lived up to expectations in her Paralympic debut, as she stayed perfect in the women’s SB-LL1.
But the 22-year-old knew she was not safe until Cecile Hernandez completed her decent. The French snowboarder was only a tenth of a second behind after her first intermediate and was flawless the rest of her ride down. But she finished 56.53, 0.36 seconds off Huckaby’s best time.
"I was scared. She's fast, she's good,” Huckaby said of Hernandez. “I know that. And watching her and how close it was, I had no idea if I was going to walk away with gold, which was pretty cool.
"I want to keep being better and keep moving forward and keep pushing this sport to what it can be, and I think this is the beginning for us in boarder-cross specifically because we can do more.”
The USA’s Amy Purdy locked in the bronze, as the USA tallied 13 snowboard medals in PyeongChang, including five golds.
Highlights of each day’s action will be made available here on the International Paralympic Committee’s website.