BOKWANG PHOENIX PARK, South Korea — As her competition raised hell, Jamie Anderson raised her arms.
Anderson’s been atop the women’s snowboard slopestyle world for much of the last decade, so long, she said, it at times got frustrating the sport didn’t progress around her.
That’s changed in recent seasons and she was no lock this week at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea to defend the gold medal she won in 2014. Progression has come fast for women’s slopestyle and it seemed it would take big-time tricks to pull out a medal on the sport’s biggest stage, the Winter Olympics.
Instead, a nasty windstorm blew that progress away. The contest, already delayed a day once and a further hour Monday morning, went on anyway, the wind wrecking havoc as riders tried to navigate the gusts.
Anderson, meanwhile, dialed back her tricks and, thanks to all that experience, dialed up another winning run, adjusting to the conditions at times even mid-trick to remain the only woman who’s ever won an Olympic slopestyle gold medal.
Anderson, from South Lake Tahoe, was golden again, now a two-time Olympic champion.
“It’s been a crazy year and coming here and having a really intense course, everyone was pretty intimidated just linking runs,” Anderson said. “I’m so happy. I freaking sent it and got another gold. It definitely was a struggle out there today for everyone and I’m happy I was able to put one down.”
The whipping winds caused an uproar among athletes as they filed away from the course, one after another frustrated they were unable to land the runs they’d envisioned.
About 80 percent of the day’s runs included a significant fall or mistake, 40 of the 50 from the two-run finals format.
The field was so large because Sunday’s qualification event was canceled in light of worries about that same wind. Instead, all the Olympic athletes competed in a two-run final.
If some of the riders had their way, they wouldn’t have competed Monday, either.
“It really was sketchy. It was sketchy and a little scary because every run the wind was different. It was a lottery what you would get,” said Austria’s Anna Gasser, defending World Champion in Big Air and a regular atop World Cup slopestyle podiums.
“I think a lot of girls felt uncomfortable,” she said. “There were only a few that were OK with it. Funny that the one that wanted it the most won the contest at the end, but that’s how it goes.”
Anderson said she was against postponing Sunday’s action because of exactly what she found when she showed up Monday morning: similar conditions.
In any case, she rode in the same conditions as everyone else and she shoved out of the starting house jamming to Dr. Dre.
She adapted better than most. No decision may have been more critical than to downgrade her trick off the second of the three big jumps at the bottom of the course, the one most vulnerable to the wind and site of the most carnage.
A gust had pushed her long on her trick of the first big kicker and she’d lost some speed. She hit the lip of the second jump planning to do a cab 900, two-and-a-half spins. She cut it short mid-air, landing instead a cab 540, one full rotation short.
“I realize I didn’t have enough airtime and in the air I changed my mind, which is not the safest thing in the world,” Anderson said.
It kept her on her feet and allowed her to finish the run with a 720 and to collect the fruits of a clean run, a score of 83.00. It was nearly 10 points better than anyone else scored on the first run and ended up nearly seven points better than anyone else would score in any run.
“Jamie’s the most legendary female slopestyle rider of all time and you saw her ability to ride through anything today,” Canada’s Spencer O’Brien said. “She was already cemented as a legendary rider, but this second gold medal will just do that more for me.”
Canadian Laurie Blouin was second at 76.33 and Finland’s Enni Rukajarvi third at 75.38.
The U.S. had a strong run from Jessika Jenson, who finished sixth with a score of 72.26. Hailey Langland put down a solid run late in the contest but fell just short of the podium, as well, placing seventh at 71.80.
Julia Marino was 11th with a score of 55.85.
Athletes insisted their complaints weren’t just sour grapes, but a frustration with decisions made far above their heads and, they suspected, above the heads of those to whom they were able to complain.
To them, the competition was an important opportunity missed for the athletes, for the sport and for the Olympics.
“In Sochi, the tricks were harder than here, which I’m a little sad about because I wanted the girls to show what we can do,” Gasser said. “That makes me feel (bad) because we all try to progress. We have been progressing. You saw a big difference to Sochi in the other contests. It would have been cool to show we girls are not that far apart, to show some style, but this made us look way worse than we are.”
Nevertheless, she wasn’t arguing with the results, nor with what Anderson’s been able to accomplish.
Windy day or not, she’s the undefeated, undisputed Olympic queen of snowboard slopestyle.