The 17-year-old crashed on both of his first two runs amid high winds at Pheonix Park, but pulled off a spectacular final effort that no one could match to become the youngest American man to win an Olympic winter gold medal since 1928.
Sitting in 11th place after two runs, Gerard wowed the judges with his descent through a series of rails, ramps and huge jumps to beat Canadian riders Max Parrot and Mark McMorris to the silver and bronze respectively.
The diminutive Gerard, the second-youngest of seven siblings who grew up in Cleveland, Ohio before moving to Colorado, seemed stunned as he became the youngest Olympic snowboarding champion ever.
“I was surprised to make it even to the finals of the Olympics and to get first is above me, I don’t even know what’s going on to be honest,” Gerard told the British Broadcasting Corporation.
“I cannot believe what has just happened – it is insane.”
Parrot put down a near-flawless run as the last rider to go down, but it wasn’t good enough to knock Gerard off the top spot.
McMorris, who had been in the lead after two rounds, took his second straight Olympic slopestyle bronze less than a year after crashing into a tree, suffering a collapsed lung, ruptured spleen, fractured jaw, ribs, pelvis and left arm.
The USA has not had to wait until the second day of an Olympic Games — Summer or Winter — to win its first gold medal since 1998.
He was a child prodigy, who could walk at nine months, started snowboarding at the age of two and managed to do a standing backflip by the time he was six years old, according to the Washington Post. He joined the American national team just four years ago.
His Olympic journey is set to continue in the men’s big air competition, which will be making its debut in an Olympic Games on Feb. 21.