PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — The evolution of women’s snowboarding pushed defending Olympic gold medalist Jamie Anderson to her limits.
Unfortunately, intense, shifting and frigid winds prevented the 2018 Olympic competition from showcasing the sport’s evolution.
Instead of showing the world what female boarders are capable of doing on a snowy slope, Monday’s event became one of strategy, survival and luck.
“I’ve been going through a lot this last year, especially the last few years with women’s riding really progressing at a crazy rate,” said Anderson, who was one of the few women to land a clean, albeit simpler-than-planned run, to earn her second Olympic gold Monday at Phoenix Freestyle Park. “I was nervous and intimidated and trying to keep my composure. But there are so many talented girls now. I think that anyone could have won today, and it was kind of just who could deal with their nerves and conditions and everything the best and ride the best in the moment.”
While Anderson and Idaho native Jessika Jenson weren’t critical of the decision to hold the weather-shortened finals on a day when Alpine events were canceled due to the wind, other competitors felt it was unfair.
“The weather was bad and too dangerous,” said bronze medalist Enni Rukajarvi of Finland, who scored 75.38 points to finish third behind Anderson’s modest 83-point gold-medal run and Canada’s Laurie Blouin, who earned silver with a score of 76.33. “And I got a lot of wind on my run so that was bad. I had a fall and hurt my chin a little (on my first run) so that wasn’t too nice. … (The weather) was better in practice, but then it got really bad. They should have canceled it or moved it.”
Of the 50 runs by the 25 competitors, only eight didn’t include falls. Three of the four Americans were among those, although all admitted opting for less difficult tricks because of the unpredictable and dangerous winds.
In fact, not only did the weather eliminate Sunday’s qualifying rounds, it delayed the start of Monday’s two-run final, drove spectators away, and harassed riders in pursuit of Olympic glory.
“The conditions were not ideal, but it changes so quick,” Anderson said. “When we were practicing, and even earlier this morning, when we all got there, it was really bad, and they did delay it and did their best. I think there’s a lot of mixed feelings.”
Sarka Pancochova, representing the Czech Republic, said it was unfortunate for the riders — and the sport.
“It’s a poor interpretation of women’s snowboarding because everybody is falling and nobody is making it through the landings,” she said. “It’s just a bummer. You’re qualifying for this for a very long time, and then they run this? It’s like, ‘Come on, guys. We’re at the Olympics.’ You have more days you can run it.”
Jenson, who thanked her hometown of Rigby for supporting her career, admitted the conditions were pretty brutal, but they compete in an unpredictable sport.
“We were all battling the wind, but it’s just something we can’t control,” Jenson said. “So we all try to make the best of it. It is what it is. We just had to try and compensate for the windy conditions. I know that the girls had more tricks out there, but due to the conditions, we had to hold everything back a little bit. … We’re all just having fun and doing the best we can.”
Jenson, who was competing in her second Olympics, said the women definitely had more to show, and she hopes they’ll be able to do so in the first Olympic Big Air competition later in the Games.
“I know the girls have more to show,” she said. “And I just think we felt a little unsafe to do some of those bigger tricks. … We tried our best.”
Jenson was glad that she was able to land a clean run, which put her in third place after the first round. The most difficult aspect of the wind was it’s sudden shifts, especially when it turned out to be a headwind.
“When the wind was a headwind, we just didn’t quite have the speed for the jumps,” Jenson said. “So we really had to get the feel for it, and make sure it wasn’t a headwind.”
That very issue caused a scary moment for Anderson on her second run when, having already secured gold, she bailed on a planned trick (cab 900) but ran into a vicious headwind.
“I went off the jump, I realized I did not have enough speed, so I kind of had to open up and try to find my feet,” Anderson said. “That was pretty difficult when you go off planning to do a trick twice as big and you kind of decide in the air, ‘That’s not going to happen.’”
Jenson said she looks to Anderson for guidance and inspiration.
“I really look up to my teammate Jamie Anderson,” she said. “I go to her for a lot of advice, mentally and physical. She’s just a very strong rider. She won her second gold medal, and she’s just really talented and always has a really good mindset. … She’s always positive and she’s always so calm and relaxed.”
American Hailey Langland added, “The girls rallied, and we had a really good final. It’s hard to be up there knowing you might not finish your run just because of the wind, but I mean, that’s why those girls are on the top of the podium, because they rallied and got it done.”