KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia – The tree-huggingest, mantra-repeatingest, bead-rubbingest, sage-burningest, yoga-Omingest gold medalist in the history of the Winter Olympics – and, fine, it's not like Jamie Anderson has a whole lot of competition in any of those categories, but whatever – stood at the top of the slopestyle course here at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park and did something else positively unique among elite athletes in the midst of their most defining moments.
She smiled. Football players don't smile in the fourth quarter. Baseball players don't smile in the ninth inning. Hockey players don't ever smile, though that's probably because they don't have any teeth. Thankfully, Jamie Anderson is a snowboarder, and if you're staring down three rail features, three giant jumps and Olympic glory, smiling is acceptable. And not just some half-hearted grin or awful selfie duckface. Anderson pounded her heart, danced on the snow, stretched her arms skyward, smiled her full-on smile and threw the run of a lifetime.
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Once she stuck the landing on her final jump, Anderson knew. Everyone knew. When the best female slopestyle rider in the world stomps a run like she did, a stylistic masterpiece full of grabs and tricks other women simply can't execute, nobody beats her. And the first women's slopestyle competition of the Olympics went exactly as the men's had the day before when Sage Kotsenburg won: a young, photogenic American with personality to spare handed Team USA a gold medal – and a big, smiling face.
"I was just trying to keep it light," Anderson said. "I was freaking out."
"She's a bit of a hippie from Tahoe," interjected Jenny Jones, who won Great Britain its first medal ever on snow with a bronze.
"I was so nervous, I couldn't even eat," Anderson said. "I was just trying to calm down. I put on some meditation music, burned some sage, had the candles going. Just tried to do a little bit of yoga. Yoga always comes through for me."
Among that and the journaling and the mantra-chanting, Anderson found the requisite relaxation to prepare her for an event like she never had seen. Anderson dominated X Games slopestyle competitions, winning four gold medals. The Olympics, as Kotsenburg noted the day before, is a different beast altogether. The stage is global, the pressure unrelenting, the scope vast. Sometimes it takes more than talent.
Anderson reached inside her jacket and yanked out a tangle of necklaces, all tangled together. "These are my mantra beads," she said. "My friend, my yoga teacher in Breckenridge, made them for me with sacred energy put into them."
And the one below it?
"This is a clear quartz," she said, "a power stone."
And above that?
"Moon stone," she said.
Um. That's quite a lot of energy for one shredder to harness.
"You should see what's in my backpack," she said. "A medicine bundle."
Sounds like something Putin's men would totally confiscate.
"They didn't even question it," Anderson said. "They just knew it was good vibes all the way."
[Related: Hippy Anderson stays calm for Sochi gold]
She smiled again, and not some coy smile because she was in on a funny joke. To Anderson, this is the furthest thing from absurd. It is how she lives her life, what she believes, why she exists. One of snowboarding's great gifts is the ability for riders to express themselves, both in attitude and style, and Anderson embodies it as much as anyone. Sage Kotsenburg was the dude who loved to talk about his sick run and how stoked it made him, and Jamie Anderson was the girl who last year rode a board that said EARTH on the bottom.
"She's really in touch with her surroundings and really in touch with the earth," U.S. snowboarding coach Mike Jankowski said. "To be able to be one with your surroundings, your environment, is absolutely critical."
Jankowski is the one who encouraged Anderson to smile and breathe after she hand-checked on the final jump of her first run, leaving her with a score of 80.75. Competitors kept throwing strong second runs, pushing Anderson out of the medal stand and meaning she needed to stick her tricks to elbow her way back in.
When she landed her final jump, a frontside 720 with a mute grab, the competition was over. When Anderson grew up in Lake Tahoe, most of her friends were guys. And so, Anderson's older brother Luke said, her style on the slopes gravitated toward theirs, and she mastered difficult board grabs and emphasized clean landings more than her competitors. It behooved her with these judges, who appreciated the tail grab on her cab 720 and recognized the difficulty in her switch backside 540, a trick that required her to spin off her heels while traveling with her weak foot forward.
"She's so strong, and so, so smooth," said American Karly Shorr, 19, who finished sixth. "That's how I want to snowboard. That's exactly how I want to look when I snowboard."
All of the women, even bronze medalist Jones, who has 10 years on Anderson, want to ride a little more like her – and be a little more like her, too. They see the peace Anderson perpetuates, the sort that comes directly from her mom, Lauren, an alpaca farmer in Vermont. She carried around a scarf that said "TEAM EVERY1."
"So many people were cheering for America," Lauren said. "Come on. Let's get this together. Let's be a global unit. Earth. Happy."
Earth was happy Sunday, because one of its finest children represented it in proper fashion. Jamie Anderson, who her mom called a "tree-huggin', fun-lovin', down-to-earth medicine woman," sat on the dais at her news conference. Someone handed her a pen to sign a snowboard with all the medal winners' signatures, and she swooped her name.
Then she embellished it with a peace sign, followed by the words "One Love," with the second O written as a heart, the perfect sendoff for the gilded hippie who is America's newest Olympic champion.
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