Nicholls finished sixth in the first men's snowboard slopestyle final, the best British performance on the white stuff at these Games in 46 years.
And, as his sport trended on Twitter, with Andy Murray among those gripped by the action, he was suddenly and briefly the most famous sportsman in the country. The 20-year-old snowboarder was a surprise automatic qualifier for the final and then spent enough time in the top three to get Britain dreaming of a first winter Games medal on snow.
He landed a triple for the first time in his career - a gravity- defying, twisting, turning leap that had him punching the air in delight - but he admitted he never expected to stay in the podium places. Double Olympic halfpipe champion Shaun White may have pulled out, but America still won gold - Sage Kotsenburg claiming victory with a best run of 93.50.
He was the only US athlete in the final though, even Britain - a snow limited island of 60 million - had two qualifiers, Billy Morgan joining Nicholls and placing 10th. Nicholls' performance was the best on snow by a British man since Martin Bell's downhill eighth in 1988, Alain Baxter's slalom bronze at Salt Lake City 2002 controversially ruled out due to a cruel doping infringement.
And with a British team in Sochi full of snowboarding and freestyle skiing medal hopes, including Jenny Jones, James Woods, Katie Summerhayes and Rowan Cheshire, it's a positive start for Team GB's "Fridge Kids".
"To be in that mix was incredible. Maybe I could have been on the podium but I did my best and gave it my all," he said.
"I knew those guys at the end there are the best guys in the world and I new they were going to put down their runs. My first run was the best run I have ever done in my life. I landed a backside triple 1440 and that is the first time I have ever landed that trick in a contest.
"I wouldn't have done anything different. I was so going for it on that first run. I was so happy and when I landed the backside triple I had this weird feeling in my stomach."
Norway's Marit Bjoergen, dubbed the Iron Lady of cross-country skiing, showed her mettle to claim an emotional fourth Olympic gold. Her close-knit squad have been rocked by the sudden death of team-mate Astrid Uhrenholdt Jacobsen's brother and tears flowed after she crossed the line in the 15km skiathlon.
Bjoergen was the most successful woman athlete in Vancouver four years ago, winning three golds, a silver and a bronze, a feat she is looking to upgrade in Sochi. "One gold was my goal, so now I can relax a little bit," she said. "I can enjoy the rest of the Games."
But star of the day was fellow Norwegian Ole Einar Bjoerndalen, who secured his place as the joint most successful Winter Olympian of all-time. Bjorndalen recently celebrated his 40th birthday and claimed the 12th medal of his career with a gold in biathlon's 10km sprint - a title he first won 16 years ago in Nagano. With more races to come, including team events in which Norway traditionally dominate, it should only be a matter of time before he removes compatriot Bjoern Daehlie from the record books. Britain's Lee Jackson finished 67th, more than two-and-a-half minutes behind Bjoerndalen, ruling him out of this week's pursuit.
Meanwhile, Team GB were eliminated from the team figure skating competition, but Scottish-based Jenna McCorkell had no complaints with her performance. Four years ago McCorkell, who trains in Dundee, left Vancouver in tears after a stuttering short programme cost her the chance to perform her free skate.
And while her season's best 50.09 score has room for improvement, she was delighted to avenge the disappointment that briefly had her questioning her involvement in the sport.
"It was my season's best by 11 points and that's a big step up from the European Championships. I'm just proud to finally put a performance in at the Olympics," she said."I did my absolute best and I was really relieved after Vancouver."
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