Maddie Bowman spins for gold in Sochi

Maddie Bowman in a rare moment of seriousness. Photo: Sarah Brunson/U.S. Freeskiing

Maddie Bowman in a rare moment of seriousness; photo by Sarah Brunson/U.S. Freeskiing

If you were just to follow freeskier Maddie Bowman's career, you might think that it was simple to become one of the world's best female halfpipe skiers. Bowman, who just turned 20, has made rising to the top of the pipe game look effortless. In the past three years, since she started focusing on halfpipe, she's placed top three in most of the comps she's entered, she sprinkles in new tricks on nearly every run—she threw a switch 720 at this year's X Games and mentioned that she might do a 900 in Sochi—and she always looks like she's having a good time.

Goofing off at the uniform unveiling ceremony. Photo: Diane Bondareff/Invision for The North Face/AP Images

Goofing off at the uniform unveiling ceremony; photo by Diane Bondareff/Invision for The North Face/AP Images

It's not that other skiers make it look hard, but oftentimes you can see their effort, their disappointment. Bowman never appears to falter, and she seems unflaggingly fun—goofy, even. She works hard, and she's technically super skilled—she's one of the only women who can spin a 900 both ways—but she also cites the movie Mulan as inspiration and jokes around about her lucky underwear. She says she loves halfpipe because it has some structure and intensity, and because it's creative and gives her a chance to have fun.

Bowman, who graduated from California’s South Lake Tahoe High School in 2012 after captaining their state-championship soccer team, has always been an athlete. She grew up racing. Both of her parents were alpine skiers and they put her on skis at Sierra-at-Tahoe resort before she was 2, but she never really loved the structure of hitting gates. She made the switch to freeskiing three years ago and immediately started winning.

Boosting out of the pipe. Photo: Sarah Brunson/U.S. Freeskiing

Boosting out of the pipe; photo by Sarah Brunson/U.S. Freeskiing

In 2012, the first year she started competing at a high level, Bowman won two Dew Tour stops and scored silver in X Games halfpipe. The next winter, she won gold at X and took both Grand Prix stops. She hasn't slowed down much. This year, she repeated her victory at X Games and also won the Dew Tour and two Grand Prix stops. In Sochi, she is the far and away favorite.

Canada's Roz Groenewoud and France's Marie Martinod are both threats, but Bowman's beaten them both before. She says she doesn't feel competition with her American teammates, including best friend, Brita Sigourney. If the Olympics play out like the rest of her season, there's a good chance she'll be bringing a gold medal back to Tahoe.

Women’s ski halfpipe qualifiers begin at 6:30 p.m. Sochi time on Thursday, with the medal event directly following. Access the viewer's guide at NBCOlympics.com.

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