PYEONGCHANG, South Korea – Jamie Anderson struggled for months to add the difficult tricks needed to contend with the women who had started to beat her. She repeated as Olympic champion because she chose not to attempt one of those tricks.
Anderson’s gold medal on a wind-wrecked day was won in one moment in her 83-point first run.
After a strong rails section and a backside 540, Anderson geared up for the second jump, where many of the 25 women who dropped before her crashed.
The wind gusts blew snow up from the finish corral, creating a dust-storm effect. Some riders criticized officials for not postponing the contest to another day (the women’s Alpine skiing giant slalom was postponed earlier). There was a 75-minute delay before the first run.
“Today was a matter of luck,” said Great Britain’s Aimee Fuller, one of 15 women unable to crack 50 points in either run. “I think it’s not the best show of women’s slopestyle at all.”
Anderson was not lucky. She realized this on that second jump. She started to attempt a cab double cork 900 but felt a strong uphill wind as she took off.
That’s when the experience from Anderson’s record 15 X Games medals, plus that Sochi gold, came into play.
“We call it putting the parachute out,” said longtime boyfriend Tyler Nicholson, a Canadian Olympic rider who cracked open a Molson outside the finish corral. “She stopped the rotation.”
Anderson waved her arms, forcing her body into slow motion for one fewer rotation. She landed and then ended with a frontside 720, the same finisher from her winning run in Sochi.
The 27-year-old, the last rider to go, received her leading 83 points and trotted out of the corral. She caught sight of her parents and five of her six siblings. Her 62-year-old dad yelled out her nickname, “Little Bear.”
Anderson stuck her tongue out.
“The tongue was definitely a sigh of relief that she put her run down,” sister Nora said.
Anderson then stopped by Nicholson, who struggled to seventh place in the men’s event Sunday.
“That was a little sketchy, eh?” she told her boyfriend of nearly three years. (Anderson and Nicholson hung out at contests together for two years before they dated. “At one point, she was like, you can’t just come hang out with me at contests. You’re going to date me, or you’re not going to hang with me. She’s a boss,” Nicholson said. They now live together in Whistler, B.C.)
“Jamie, you’re in first, don’t worry about it,” Nicholson responded. “Look at the conditions. They’re extremely sketchy.”
“Yeah, but it wasn’t what I wanted,” she said before walking off to return to the top for her second run.
Anderson didn’t need a second run. The other 25 riders could not match that 83, so it turned into a victory lap.
Canadian Laurie Blouin, a 21-year-old with no X Games experience, moved up to silver with a 76.33 in her second run. Three days earlier, Blouin was stretchered off the course with a head injury in training and taken to a regional hospital.
Finland’s Enni Rukajarvi took bronze with a 75.38-point second run after her Sochi silver.
But those weren’t the women pushing jump progression who put fear into Anderson in the last two years.
“When I was asked about double corks about three years ago, I said there was no way in hell I would ever want to do double corks,” Anderson said in December. “With the younger girls starting to get their double corks together, I think I kind of shifted my mindset and started thinking that we are capable of getting these tricks that are really scary.”
Austrian Anna Gasser, who won the Olympic test event in big air in PyeongChang last season (where Anderson was fifth). Gasser was 15th on Monday.
Norwegian Silje Norendal (fourth), Canadian Spencer O’Brien (22nd) and American Julia Marino (11th), who won the X Games slopestyle titles over Anderson in 2015, 2016 and 2017.
“[Anderson] had to learn 9s and 10s [900s and 1080s],” Anderson’s mom said. “She wasn’t sure if she really wanted to. She was afraid.”
Anderson landed a cab double 900 in competition for the first time at the opening World Cup of this season. She said in December that she had only landed it five or six times. Anderson wasn’t totally comfortable doing it.
But Anderson was feeling it Monday morning. Around the time those wind gusts delayed the start by 75 minutes, she texted her mom.
“That she was feeling really good,” sister Corrie said. “With a bunch of exclamation points.”
Anderson Instagrammed from a holding area during the delay. She danced to “Get Low” and “MotorSport” while wearing an astronaut helmet.
“I don’t like the anticipation,” Anderson said. “I was one of the girls that’s like, let’s do this. I don’t want to wait a couple of days. I’m nervous.”
At about 12:15 p.m., Anderson queued up “All Night Long” by Machine Gun Kelly, breathed deep, patted her heart (“It’s a gratitude thing … channeling her inner person,” her sisters said) and dropped in.
“She wanted to go earlier,” coach Dave Reynolds said. “She’s like, let’s get this thing started. She’s got the skill to fight the wind. She’s got the board control. Advantage her.”
She found her zen zone.
Anderson endured some struggle in the four years between golds. She broke her collarbone in December 2015. She lost X Games. Then lost it again. Then lost it again.
She thought she needed to change it up. She won because she didn’t.
“Isn’t that something?” Anderson said. “Sometimes you have to be able to adapt to the conditions and do your best in the moment. The wind is no joke. She’s powerful.”
In 2014, Anderson celebrated her Olympic gold at a temple of water, earth, fire and air. This time, she knows exactly where she’s going.
“I have been going to the spa here,” she said. “It’s not as spiritual, but it’s really nice. Just hot water, steam, sauna. Literally, my body needs it.”