KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia (AP) — China came to the Sochi Games with the top-ranked men's and women's aerials team in the world.
It left without an Olympic gold medal. Again.
When Jia Zongyang and Qi Guangpu smashed into the snow during their respective jumps in the men's final on Monday night, it paved the way for Belarusian Anton Kushnir's triumph and left the most dominant country in the sport standing on one of the lower medal steps looking up at the winner. Again.
Jia earned bronze behind Kushnir and David Morris of Australia while Qi missed the podium entirely after he couldn't quite nail down his five-twisting triple-flip in the finals.
The result came three days after Chinese teammate Xu Mengtao grabbed silver but two-time silver medalist Li Nina finished fourth while Alla Tsuper of Belarus earned gold in her fifth and final Olympics.
"Yeah it was quite sad that we didn't get more medals than we actually did," Jia said. "Probably we could have done better. We lost some good opportunities."
China has won gold just once since aerials was introduced at Lillehammer two decades ago, when Han Xiaopeng beat Dmitri Dashinski in Turin in 2006. The expected Chinese gold rush hasn't exactly followed, though it's not for lack of trying.
It speaks to China's depth that Zongyang came to Sochi as the fourth and final member of the team, behind Liu Zhongquig, Qi and Wu Chao. In a sport where a sure thing is a rare thing, the world's most populous nation came pretty close.
A Chinese woman has won each World Cup season title since 2010. A Chinese man has won two of the last three. That dominance, however, hasn't translated on the unpredictable Olympic slope.
Liu didn't even make it out of qualification on Monday night, washing out in each of his two jumps to finish last in the 21-skier field. Wu was next out when he couldn't make it out of the first round of finals.
Jia and Qi appeared ready to give China its second gold medal, posting the two highest scores in second elimination round. All it did was set the stage for Kushnir, who posted an eye-popping score of 134.50 and put the pressure on Jia and Qi to come through with the jump of their lives if they wanted to win.
It didn't quite happen. Their own versions of a five-twisting triple flip didn't go as planned. Qi fell backward upon landing while Jia put together a crisper jump but added an unwanted forward somersault after crashing into the slush.
Jia, however, wasn't exactly upset with the result. He didn't play it safe and he came up short. The 22-year-old knows there will be other Olympic chances down the road.
"I think that I managed to show quite a good result and I'm satisfied with my jump," he said. "I'm now moving on to my gold medal and in four years I'm quite sure I'll be able to get it."