PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — McRae Williams stopped before the final jump on the slopestyle course, put his dislocated shoulder back into place, and skied to the finish area with a smile on his face.
Bruised and battered, the 27-year-old Park City free skier didn’t get the chance to ski for a gold medal in Sunday’s slopestyle final at Phoenix Park, but the first-time Olympian relished the opportunity to represent those who’ve sacrificed, supported and cheered as he worked to get to Pyeongchang.
“It’s been amazing,” Williams said after he finished 15th in the qualifying runs with a first run score of 81.60. He missed the cutoff for the finals by four points. “It’s just an honor to get to experience all of this. Yeah, growing up, we (free skiers) were never part of the Olympics, but it’s definitely a big deal. And there are a lot of eyes on us right now.”
Williams was the first skier out of the gate for the morning’s two qualifying runs. He laid down a clean run worth 81.60, but going first is both mentally challenging and an issue because judges have nothing to compare the run to.
On his second run, he took more risks, and he ended up aggravating an old injury.
“Unfortunately, I dislocated my shoulder on that second run on the first jump,” he said. “So it kind of threw things off a bit. It is what it is. … It’s been an amazing experience and journey, and I’m stoked to be here.”
Williams said he attempted to keep skiing with a dislocated shoulder, something he’s dealt with a handful of times in the past, but he had to stop and pop it back into place.
“It’s just been one thing after another,” he said, noting that he injured his MCL at the X Games three weeks ago, and tore his calf muscle as he practiced for Sunday's competition. “I’ve just been battling to get in shape and be here and even be able to ski. … It’s been a battle, but that’s part of the sport, and it will make me stronger.”
Two U.S. free skiers made the finals — 2014 silver medalist Gus Kenworthy and bronze medalist Nick Goepper, both part of the Team USA sweep led by Williams' best friend Joss Christensen. Kenworthy was also battling injuries, including a broken thumb and painful hip injury. He didn’t land a clean run in the finals, while Goepper laid it all on the line on his third and final run to earn 93.60 points — good enough for second place.
Oystein Braatan, Norway, won the gold with a 95-point first run, and Canadian Alex Beaulieu finished third with a score of 92.40 on his second run.
Williams said he’d tried, like many first-time Olympians, to see the competition as just another contest.
“I’m trying to think of it that way, but also, I’m just stoked to have all my friends and family back home watching this,” he said. “There’s so much hype around this; it’s such a big deal to them. So just to put something down for them is an honor.”
He was most grateful that he landed one clean run because his mother and 16-year-old sister were in the crowd of fans at the bottom of the mountain.
“Having them watching, that’s just all the more meaningful than getting any sort of podium or any success that will come out of this,” he said. “That’s a success in and of itself. … It’s been a rough couple of weeks … so I’m just happy to be skiing and I feel like I’m skiing really well.”
Salt Lake resident Alex Hall also missed the finals as he finished 16th with a score of 77.80.