How Jamie Anderson beat the wind to win Olympic gold

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PYEONGCHANG, South Korea – Deep breaths, Jamie Anderson told herself. Deep breaths.

She was looking out over the Phoenix Park slopestyle course, where 25 of her fellow Olympians had just pushed off from the same spot where she was now standing. They’d thrown themselves down the icy hill and into the teeth of a wicked wind, and not one of them had come through unscathed. At best, they’d dialed back their planned routines to primary colors, the wind too vicious to take any kind of risk. At worst? They’d wrecked out, their feet knocked out from under them, their balance off kilter by a gust of the wind that was pinning wind socks horizontal.

This will be a day long debated in snowboarder lore, a day when competition and common sense lost out to the imperative of the schedule. Conditions were too dangerous to practice on Sunday. And yet, on Monday, the exact same conditions existed – and now, with qualifying runs eliminated and medal runs sliced from three to two, the margin for error was nonexistent.

Anderson, who went on to win a gold medal in the slopestyle event, knew all this, and so did her teammates, who woke up Monday in full protest mode. “When we first got up in the morning, it was really windy,” Anderson recalled after her victory. “I was outside most of the time, just watching. And it calmed down dramatically. For an hour, there were no gusts.”

Jamie Anderson celebrates after winning her second consecutive slopestyle gold medal. (AP)
Jamie Anderson celebrates after winning her second consecutive slopestyle gold medal. (AP)

When Team USA got the word – there would be no more cancellations, racing would happen today – several of the younger members protested, saying, “No, it’s not safe.” But Anderson was having none of it.

“It’s not like what we’re doing is safe anyhow,” she said later.

“Just deal with it” is a pretty easy stance to take when you’ve just won gold, but Anderson tried to moderate the burn-it-all-down mentality that some of her teammates took in the wake of the day’s debacle.

“There’s always something, from the weather to the snow to the flat light,” she said. “It’s something we have to deal with and learn to adapt to. I wasn’t able to do my best run either.”

Anderson put down her gold-medal run in her first attempt, and as Round 2 began and carried on, rider after rider fell until. And by the time it was Anderson’s turn to go again, there was no need. Run 1 was good enough to win.

She concedes, though, that Monday was not the kind of day that snowboarding needs to continue to put its best edge forward.

“I don’t think it showcased the best riding, but conditions changed a ton from the first to the second run, and you could see that,” she said. “It was super unfortunate.”

Watch the carnage here:

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Even in the best conditions, slopestyle is as demanding mentally as it is physically. It’s not just a matter of getting down the mountain; you’ve got to screen out all the external distractions, from flags to banging music, and keep a lid on the internal ones, like plotting what routine comes next. It takes a level of mental equilibrium that doesn’t come easily to, say, a teenage snowboarder.

Of course, Anderson’s got help with that equilibrium. She brings an entire array of holistic medicines and charms – clear quartz, smoky quartz, bark from a hometown tree, a seed from Hawaii, lavender, frankincense, ear candles … you get the idea. That kind of foundation gives you the confidence not to worry about what you can’t control — and that includes what’s coming next in the run you’re on. Monday, it all paid off.

“I was trying not to think,” she said, “just do.”

She did.

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