Anderson lives up to hype, wins gold
KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia -- Few things are heavier than the weight of a gold medal. Especially when the world hangs it around your neck three years before the contest begins.
That's essentially what happened to American Jamie Anderson the day slopestyle snowboarding was added to the Sochi Games. Immediately, the four-time X Games champ began her reign as the future Olympic gold medalist.
But Sunday afternoon, Anderson met the hype head on and will leave Sochi as the first Olympic gold medalist in women's slopestyle history. Enni Rukajarvi of Finland finished second, and the U.K.'s Jenny Jones took bronze.
After sketching the landing on a frontside seven in her first run, Anderson went back to the top of the course. And waited. It was nearly an hour before she would take her final run, more than enough time to let the pressure and expectations of the past two years build up. But instead of allowing the moment to overwhelm her, in characteristic fashion, she took a deep breath, cleared her mind and did a few visualization exercises.
"There was so much anticipation leading up to this event, and I just had to calm my mind and have the trust and faith that I was capable of doing what I really wanted to do," Anderson said. "At the top of the course, I took a moment, took a deep breath and saw everything I wanted to see happen. I saw myself landing my run and the happiness of my family and all their love and support.
"I told myself to take it one thing at a time. It's easy to get ahead of yourself. I've been reading 'The Power of Now.' It's been a game-changer for me this season."
So, too, was Saturday's men's finals. After watching Sage Kotsenburg take the top score, the women took note of the judges rewarding riders for throwing technical tricks and creative grabs and landing a clean run over those who were throwing progressive tricks but sacrificed perfection to do so.
"After watching the boys, I wanted to land the run I planned to do, perfectly and with good style," Anderson said.
But after watching Torah Bright, who is competing in three snowboard events for Australia, throw a Cab 900 in her first run, Anderson admitted she contemplated changing her game plan.
"I even thought about a Cab 10 today, but after watching the event yesterday, I saw the judges were down for style," Anderson said. "Sina [Candrian] did an insane 10 today, the first ever, and it crossed my mind to throw a more challenging trick. But I didn't want to risk doing a new trick and maybe falling."
Instead, she threw the same line as she had in her first run, which included one of the most technical top sections of the contest, a Cab 720 tail, a huge switch backside 540 indy and a frontside 720 mute, but this time she dared the judges to find a flaw.
"There was a lot of pressure on Jamie before that last run," U.S. snowboarding coach Bill Enos said. "But she sits up there and focuses, and you just see everything release from her body. Then she just goes."
Although Candrian and Bright did not make the podium, their progressive runs certainly elevated the riding of every woman in the competition.
"That was definitely my intention," Bright said of throwing the Cab 900, a trick she hadn't attempted in nearly six years, in her first run. "I could've done a nice, solid run, but I knew these girls were going to step up, so I said, 'I'm going to step up too.'
"And I don't regret anything. I may not have won this, but I've got a stepping-stone to bettering myself as a snowboarder."
Two days ago, Bright posted a heavy message on Instagram, sharing her heartbreak over the death of a friend's child back home in Australia. She also expressed her frustration with IOC rules that won't allow her to wear a "Believe in Sarah" sticker on her helmet in honor of her good friend Sarah Burke, who died following a training accident in 2012. Before her runs, Bright tapped the center of her chest with her right hand, a way, she said, of connecting with her heart chakra and centering herself before she dropped into the course.
"I'm so happy to be a part of this day and a part of history in our sport," Bright said. "When I was standing up top looking around at the mountains, I thought, 'This place is absolutely beautiful.' Snowboarding has made my life joyful, and I want to share the sport with everybody. I feel like Sarah was that way too. She fought so hard for equality and for these sports to be here and I wanted to pay respect. A sticker doesn't mean anything. She is with us no matter what. No one will forget what she did, but I just thought I'd be cheeky."
Although she couldn't wear a sticker, Bright found a way to give a subversive shoutout to Burke by tying a white "Sarah" armband around her binding and holding it in front of her face while the TV camera caught her reaction in the finish area.
"I looked up at the TV screen, and I could see 'Sarah' on my binding," she said. "I was like, 'Well, I'll probably get kicked out of the Olympics for that.' But that's cool. Whatever. She would have thought it was badass."
The same can be said of slopestyle's Olympic debut.