Jamie Anderson has defended her title in Olympic women’s slopestyle snowboarding, surviving blustery and treacherous conditions at Phoenix Snow Park to give the United States its second gold medal at the Pyeongchang Winter Games.
Anderson was one of the few riders in the final to navigate the tricky series of rails and jumps safely as the wind wreaked havoc on the field, turning the final almost into a matter of mere survival.
Anderson posted a score of 83.00 in the first of her two runs then watched it hold up as rider after rider either crashed or bailed. Even Anderson wasn’t immune. She washed out in her second run with the gold medal already wrapped up.
Laurie Blouin of Canada took silver, with Finland’s Enni Rukajarvi finishing third. Anderson is the first woman to win multiple gold medals in snowboarding at the Olympics.
High winds scrubbed qualifying on Sunday, turning Monday’s final into a 26-woman, two-run free-for-all with Anderson, the top-ranked snowboarder in the world, scheduled to go last.
Officials pushed back the start due to weather concerns, and while the wind eventually calmed enough for the event to start following a 75-minute delay, the tricky Phoenix Snow Park course was at times an unpredictable wind tunnel that turned what was supposed to be a showcase for a sport making only its second Olympic appearance into something else entirely.
Sarka Pancochova of the Czech Republic set the tone when she led off by bailing at the top of the first of the three big air jumps at the bottom of the course, literally turning around as if to say “no thanks” before simply sliding down the hill.
The majority of the rest of the field was not so fortunate.
Only five of the 25 riders made it through their first runs with anything close to a clean set and those who did — Anderson included — settled for more of a watered down routine that emphasized sanity over sizzle.
In a sport that focuses so heavily on pushing the edge, n Austria’s Anna Gasser seemed intent on putting together a truly edgy run, and her double underflip on the second jump of her first run ended with her sitting down.
The most problematic spot appeared to be the second of the three jumps. At times the wind socks that lined the course were perpendicular to the ground and the second jump appeared to be particularly vulnerable to gusts. Rukajarvi pointed thumbs down after smashing into the snow in her first run, and even Anderson stuck out her tongue in relief after completing her steady if hardly spectacular first trip down the hill.
Anderson headed back to the top to see if anyone could catch her. And while Blouin and Rukajarvi overcame first-run spills to reach the podium, Anderson’s score was never really challenged. Not on a day when blowing snow at times obscured the course from the few thousand fans jammed around the finish.