Jamie Anderson earns gold for U.S. in slopestyle despite shifting winds, challenging conditions
PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (AP) — Jamie Anderson will almost certainly spend more time gazing at her newest Olympic gold medal than watching replays of the slopestyle run she put down to win it.
Nobody, not even the Olympic champion, would want to re-live the ugliness that played out Monday on the sport’s biggest stage.
The day Anderson cemented herself as an all-time great by defending her Olympic title will also go down as one of the most unpleasant, dangerous days snowboarding has ever seen.
Shifting, bitter winds whipped tiny ice pellets across the iced-over jumps at the Phoenix Snow Park and stiffened the orange-colored wind socks in one direction, then another. Hundreds of numbed fans streamed toward the exits while the action was ongoing, and the stands were half empty as the afternoon wore on, with wind chills dipping to 5 degrees (minus-15 degrees Celsius) and below.
Twenty-five riders each took two trips down a course that, by many of their accounts, should not have been open for action. Of the 50 runs, 41 ended with a rider on her backside, or in a face plant, or, in the case of Canadian Spencer O’Brien and a few others, in a slow ride toward the bottom after simply pulling up because they couldn’t build enough speed to reach the crest of a ramp.
“All I wanted to do,” said fourth-place finisher Silje Norendal, “was sit up top and cry.”
This was not just sour grapes.
Even Anderson — the sport’s biggest gamer and its No. 1 big-day rider — conceded, “I’m not extremely proud of my run.” Her modest score of 83 resulted in a blowout of nearly seven points over silver medalist Laurie Blouin of Canada.
But really, what was Anderson to do? After the qualifying round was scrubbed due to wind a day earlier, all the riders were summoned back for a two-run final and ordered by their world ranking, giving the top-ranked American the privilege of going last.
After watching rider after rider fail to make her way down the course during Run 1, Anderson added a little wax to her board and stood on top, hoping for a 60-second stretch of calm that would allow her to simply stay upright.
“It was a lottery,” O’Brien said.
Two weeks ago, Anderson won the Winter X Games with a cab double cork 900 — two head-over-heels flips with 2½ twists mixed in. It was one of the gold standards in a sport that prides itself on — in fact, lives for — progression, sometimes at the cost of safety, sanity and everything else.
On this day, Anderson was never tempted to try that kind of trick. Her three jumps at the bottom consisted of a backside 540, a cab 540 and a front 720 — 1½ twists, 1½ twists and two twists. It was the sort of run that might’ve won a contest in 2008 — if the rest of the riders were having an off day.
Anderson owned the fact that she won by simply surviving, and also took credit for being one of the few snowboarders who actually wanted to ride.
“I was trying to keep the spirits high, like, ‘Let’s run it,'” she said. “A handful of the girls were like, ‘No, it’s not safe,’ and things like that. It’s not like what we’re doing is safe, anyhow.”
The 27-year-old from South Lake Tahoe, California, would’ve been favored to win under any conditions. Her Zen-like mindset is a big part of the equation, and she was ready to go when her alarm went off Monday — wind, snow or shine.
“It’s having the experience, and learning to deal with what is,” Anderson said. “It’s not always going to be perfect. A lot of times, everyone’s like, ‘It’s going to be perfect in a couple days.’ But yesterday we canceled the event, and we woke up today, and it was just as windy or worse.”
Given the ugliness of the day, a few questions loomed: Why were organizers so quick to cancel the men’s downhill Sunday and the women’s giant slalom Monday in other parts of the mountains of Pyeongchang but insistent on staging both the men’s and women’s slopestyle contests? And what considerations were made for NBC, which pays billions to televise these events live in prime time in the United States?
Roby Moresi, the contest director for the International Skiing Federation, told The Associated Press that safety, not TV, was the primary concern, and that winds on the Alpine mountains were much stronger than what whipped around on the slopestyle course. He said the complaints that reporters were hearing at the bottom of the course didn’t mirror what officials were hearing up top.
“We didn’t get much of a pushback,” Moresi said. “Of course, there’s a lot at stake and maybe they don’t express as much. But we only got complaints from one team. Others were comfortable. Others were telling me, ‘You did the right thing by making it happen.'”
Once it was over, many riders felt it was time to count their blessings. Everyone walked away from their falls.
“I’m glad nothing happened to me today,” said Austria’s Anna Gasser, one of the world’s best riders, who fell twice and finished 15th.
But that was all she was glad for.
“I think today,” Gasser said, “made us look way worse than we are.”