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Canada's Evan McEachran falls on his landing in his second run during the men's freeski big air final at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing on Feb. 9, 2022.Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press

Only a couple of weeks ago at the X Games in Aspen, Colo., Evan McEachran was sailing helplessly through the air to two of the worst crashes of his career.

They were so bad that commentators marvelled that the Canadian was able to walk away.

So, the 24-year-old freestyle skier from Oakville, Ont., was looking at the positives after his ninth-place finish in big air’s Olympic debut in Beijing on Wednesday.

“I had a pretty big mental block, honestly, on both those tricks I did today,” McEachran said. “I’m just happy I was able to go out there and give it a go a couple of times and land on my feet and not get injured.

“Unfortunately, it was an inches game. I think if I put down that second one and hadn’t fallen over, could’ve ended up on the podium. So it’s a tough pill to swallow. This event happens once every four years.”

For the better part of an hour, it looked like McEachran was poised to climb the medal podium after landing an impressive switch triple cork on his first run. His score of 93.00 was tied for the second-highest score for a trick in the competition.

He went big on his second trick with an 1800 and had plenty of amplitude, but lost control and fell on the landing.

On his final jump, another triple cork, he crashed upon landing putting him out of the medals.

“So, the mental block on those tricks for me ... I had probably the heaviest crashes of my life on both of those tricks,” he said of the X Games. “So all of practice, I’ve been struggling.”

Calling the crashes “pretty bad,” he sailed about 100 feet through the air before landing on his back in both. One crash saw a ski fly off mid-air.

In the qualifying round in Beijing, he didn’t attempt those tricks, doing just enough to qualify for the 12-skier final.

“So, to get up from those and move forward and come here and reset I think is a huge accomplishment in itself for me. And I’m really proud of that,” he said.

Norway’s Birk Ruud had the gold medal sewn up before he took his final jump after scores of 95.75 and 92.00 in his first two runs for a total of 187.75 points. Before pushing off from the top for his final jump, he balled up a Norwegian flag in one hand. He wrapped it around his neck like a cape when he reached the bottom, victorious.

Colby Stevenson of the United States took silver with 183.00 points, and Sweden’s Henrik Harlaut earned bronze with 181.00.

The finals consisted of three rounds, and the skiers were scored on a combination of their best two jumps.

The skiers put on a show in the Olympic debut of big air.

“I think we showed the world what we’re all capable of, and how much we enjoy it, and how we’re all just so happy for each other all the time,” said McEachran, clutching a beer in one hand, almost out of sight. “Everyone’s at the bottom cheering everyone on, at the top, so happy when everyone lands a new trick.

“It’s not a crazy rivalry in the sport, which I think is part of the reason that I love it, and I’m so passionate about it. We had a good mix of crazy technical tricks, stuff we’ve never seen before. And then also some super stylish, fun tricks that I think will bring more people into the sport and hopefully grow it as a whole and get more people into it in the future.”

The Big Air Shougang venue is the world’s first permanent big air structure. Built on a former steel mill in the city’s Shijingshan district, the monolithic cooling towers paint a striking backdrop – and has drawn comparisons to the Springfield nuclear plant on “The Simpsons.” The surrounding empty windowless concrete and steel buildings look like the setting for a video game.

Big Air Shougang stands 60 metres high and 160 metres long. Lit up at night, it resembles a giant stiletto.

“The venue is absolutely mind-blowing,” McEachran said. “It’s insane. It’s one of the best jumps we’ve ever hit. It’s in the city. It’s around all this crazy scenery that we’re not used to skiing around.

“Kind of reminds me of being back home downtown Toronto, you have the glass elevator in the back to get up,” he added, comparing the venue elevator to Toronto’s CN Tower. “And it’s safe, fun, the crowd was awesome.”

A small but noisy crowd cheered on the skiers, but because Games participants are separated by fans in a “closed loop” system, when one of the skiers tugged off his goggles and threw them into the crowd, security quickly rushed to that section of the stands to clean.

McEachran will compete in the slopestyle on Sunday, which is his better event. He won bronze in slopestyle at the recent X Games.

“Slopestyle, it’s a lot easier to kind of express your skiing and stand out with the rail section and then doing creative different jobs and picking your line throughout it,” he said. “So, I have a lot more fun in slopestyle. And when you’re having fun, that’s when you can go out there and do your best.”

A day earlier, Megan Oldham, a 20-year-old from Parry Sound, Ont., just missed the medals, finishing fourth in the women’s event.

Eileen Gu, an 18-year-old who grew up in the U.S. but competed for China, won the gold in spectacular fashion, landing a double cork 1620, a jump she said she’d never attempted.