PYEONGCHANG, South Korea – Twenty-four others tried. They each took two rides down a diabolical course. They battled wind, they teetered and toppled, they fell and skidded and bounced. Most failed to complete their runs without crashes. The lucky ones finished by playing it safe.
And then there was American Jamie Anderson, who on Monday at the Pyeongchang Games did what other female snowboarders could not: make it look like the weather wasn’t a problem.
Anderson towered over the field, winning Winter Olympics gold in slopestyle snowboarding – the U.S.’s second gold medal of these Games after Red Gerard won the men’s slopestyle event Sunday. Anderson defended the gold she had first won at the Sochi Games in 2014.
Anderson didn’t even need her second and final run – the last of the day – to clinch. By then, the 24 others had each gone twice, and nobody had scored higher than 76.33. Anderson had been awarded an 83.00 on her first run, and then watched for another hour as the world’s best snowboarders were bedeviled by the weather. Temperatures at Phoenix Snow Park were in the low teens, and more important, winds whipped at 15 mph. Some snowboarders said the International Olympic Committee made a mistake by holding the event.
“I’m not happy about it being run,” said Cheryl Maas of the Netherlands, who placed 23rd. “It’s not just me, it’s everybody landing on their ass.”
Anderson, 27, had fretted earlier this week that the game was progressing right past her. She saw younger riders doing more daring tricks. Even after Sochi, she thought about retirement. But ultimately, in these conditions, it was her experience that came in handy. The path she took along the course was a conservative one, with pared-back jumps. It served her well. During the first heat of runs, only three snowboarders didn’t fall, and Anderson vaulted into first place – a lead she would keep.
Laurie Blouin of Canada and Enni Rukajarvi of Finland claimed silver and gold.
“The conditions helped the more experienced riders,” Anderson’s brother, Luke, said while celebrating with his family at the bottom of the course. “And she’s so competitive. She likes to win.”
When Anderson found out she’d won, she was standing atop the course, with no one left who could top her first score. The second-to-last snowboarder of the day, American Julia Marino, had posted a 41.05.
Anderson rocked her head back and raised her hands in celebration.
She had a victory lap ahead of her. She could have walked down the slope and still won.
As it happened, her victory lap was a fitting one: Midway through the course, she took her first big jump and caught a gust of wind. Her arms started helicoptering. She went bottom down into the snow.
That image fit with the day. More than half of the riders never earned a score above 50, including Anna Gasser of Austria, one of the world’s top snowboarders, who placed 15th.
“I don’t think it was a fair competition,” Gasser said. “I’m a little disappointed in the organization,” the IOC. “I think they should have canceled. So many people got hurt.”
Indeed, the event had already been warped by weather. Under normal circumstances, the final day of ladies’ slopestyle would have consisted of three runs. The field competing in those runs would have already been trimmed in an earlier day of qualifying.
But Sunday’s qualifying run was canceled because of weather. So instead, everybody made the finals – and had two runs, not three, to prove themselves.
“It’s not the best display of women’s snowboarding,” said Aimee Fuller of Great Britain, who finished 17th. “It was totally a case of survival. I took a hard slam myself. It literally felt like the wind got my board and pulled the board from my feet.”
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