ZHANGJIAKOU — Jamie Anderson’s ninth-place finish in slopestyle was one of the Beijing Olympics’ early shocks, given that she was the two-time defending gold medalist in the event and on track for a third.
Anderson struggled throughout the final round, and Wednesday on Instagram, she explained what happened behind the scenes. The issue, she said, was mental rather than physical.
“Reality sinking in,” she wrote. “This s— is a rollercoaster of emotions … love to you all and thanks for the support.”
She then addressed her slopestyle performance directly. “At the end of the day I just straight up couldn’t handle the pressure,” she wrote. “Had an emotional breakdown the night before finals and my mental health and clarity just hasn’t been on par. Looking forward to some time off and self care. After big air of course.”
Mental health and pressure are part of every Olympics — triumphing over the mind as well as the body is part of what makes an Olympian — but this year’s Games are so radically different from any before them that it’s tough to imagine they’re not having some kind of impact. From the weeks of nerve-wracking run-up to the Games trying to remain COVID-free, to the constant tests that could obliterate the Olympic dream in an instant, to the glittering cage of the “closed loop” — these Games are placing demands on athletes like never before.
The matter of mental health — how to achieve it, how to sustain it, how to preserve and protect it — dominated the Tokyo Olympics after gymnast Simone Biles withdrew from several competitions. Biles’ move drew criticism in the short run, but opened up the conversation about mental health to the point that someone, like Anderson, can now feel free to confess she “couldn’t handle the pressure” without fear of overwhelming scorn.
Anderson is slated to compete in the big air event on Feb. 15. She’s still a medal favorite, but as is clear from her post, simply showing up at the top of Big Air Shougang will be a victory in her eyes.