Jarryd Hughes has put the disappointment of five knee operations behind him to win Australia’s third medal of the Olympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang after claiming silver in the men’s snowboard cross.
Hughes stayed close to the front throughout the final to finish second behind France’s defending gold medallist and world champion Pierre Vaultier, with Spain’s Regino Hernandez taking the bronze.
Alex Pullin, the second Australian in the final, crashed midway through the race and did not finish.
Hughes joins Matt Graham (silver, men’s moguls) and Scotty James (bronze, men’s snowboard halfpipe) as Australia’s medallists in Pyeongchang.
— AUS Olympic Team (@AUSOlympicTeam) February 15, 2018
The silver medal is just reward for the persistence of the 22-year-old Hughes, whose career has been punctuated by a series of knee injuries.
Hughes said he never lost faith that he could win an Olympic medal amid the frustration of having to go under the surgeon’s knife so many times.
“I never doubted it,” Hughes told Channel Seven.
“It is always hard work coming back and five [operations] is rough and my knee is not perfect and never will be unfortunately.
“But I’m just so happy to be here and to walk away with a result like that. It’s happy days.”
Vaultier had led from the start, with Hughes maintaining an inside line to keep in touch with the Frenchman.
Pullin’s crash, which was followed by American pair Nick Baumgartner and Mick Dierdorff sustaining falls, left Vaultier, Hughes and Hernandez in the medal positions.
Vaultier was not headed, finishing 0.27 of a second in front of Hughes, who pipped Hernandez by 0.11.
“I’m just happy to see all the hard work paying off and it working out,” Hughes said.
“It was a rough year but we made it work so I’m really happy.”
The silver medal had appeared to be an unlikely result earlier in the day, given Hughes, a quarter-finalist in Sochi four years ago and the 2016 X Games winner, had struggled in the opening seeding run.
He finished 28th on fastest times and was required to contest the second seeding run, in which he topped the standings with the fourth best time of the day to go through to the heats ahead of the quarter-finals.
Pullin crashes in third Olympic appearance
For Pullin, who was the gold medal favourite in Sochi when he entered the Games as a two-time world champion, redemption seemed possible in Pyeongchang.
The three-time Olympian started the final conservatively to be fifth at the first time check but his race came unstuck when he was the first of the finalists to crash following a jump and he was unable to complete the decider.
Hughes and Pullin had advanced to the gold medal race following a dramatic semi-final marred by more than one crash.
Their Australian teammate, Cam Bolton, was the first to crash out, before the field saw three more competitors hit the snow on a late turn, with Pullin and Hughes coming through unscathed to finish one-two and safely move through to the final.
Bolton bravely contested the small final, having needed to wear heavy strapping on his left wrist and forearm after sustaining an injury from his fall, and he placed fourth.
Earlier, Australia’s fourth competitor, Adam Lambert, was fourth in his heat and did not qualify for quarter-finals.