ROSA KHUTOR, Russia China have dominated freestyle aerial skiing for several years and a bronze medal for Jia Zongyang on Monday was a paltry Olympic return for a powerhouse team that had been tipped for a clean sweep in the men's final.
One by one, the Chinese contenders fell by the wayside and in the four-man final a spectacular jump by Anton Kushnir of Belarus put a stop to the Chinese challenge once and for all.
"It was quite sad that we didn't get more medals than we did," Jia told a news conference. "We could have done better, we missed some good opportunities but, as for me, I'm quite satisfied. I'm happy with what happened."
Jia may be satisfied but in an Olympic competition billed as a battle with Belarus, China could find no answer to Kushnir's gigantic score of 134.50 as he added the men's gold to the women's won for Belarus by Alla Tsuper on Friday.
The cracks began to show for China early in qualifying. While his team mates qualified directly for the three-jump final, world number one and Vancouver bronze medallist Liu Zhongqing missed his landing to finish 18th.
Offered another chance in the second qualifying round, he failed to take it and came in last to bring his Olympic odyssey to an abrupt and ignominious end.
Wu Chao was next to go in the first round of the three-jump final, missing the cut as the field was whittled down from 12 to eight. Wu scored a modest 82.30 when a score of over a hundred would have been needed to progress.
The chance of a clean sweep had passed, but there was still a shot at a Chinese one-two as Jia and world champion Qi Guangpu made it to the last four.
However, it was not to be and China's wait for a second aerials gold after Han Xiaopeng's breakthrough triumph at Turin in 2006 is now destined to stretch to at least 12 years.
Monday's result was similar to the women's final, when China boasted two of the four super-final contenders but only managed a silver medal for Xu Mengtao as Li Nina came up short.
On an evening that had promised so much, at least 22-year-old Jia professed himself happy with his medal and said there was more to come.
"I'm quite satisfied with my jump, and I feel I'm moving towards a gold medal," he said. "I'm quite sure that in four years I'll get the gold medal."
(Reporting by Philip O'Connor, editing by Ken Ferris)