BONGPYEONG, South Korea — Before she won an event under no-win conditions, Jamie Anderson listened to old-school rap music. Dr. Dre’s “Chronic 2001” album served as the soundtrack for her nerves, as well as the score for the competitive horror film she was forced to watch as tormenting winds thrashed 25 of the world’s best female slopestyle snowboarders.
The gusty day created a situation so bad that British rider Amy Fuller considered it “a case of survival.” Hailey Langland, Anderson’s 17-year-old United States teammate, went with “insanely brutal.” Austrian star Anna Gasser, a crowd-pleasing extraordinaire, shook her head after finishing 15th and said, “That was no fun, you guys. Sorry.”
On a day defined by crashes, bruises and resentment that the event wasn’t postponed, Anderson challenged danger. The reigning Olympic champion was the last to go. During an earlier practice on Monday morning, she hadn’t been able to land any of her jumps at Phoenix Snow Park. “Oh, no!” she thought after the warm-up. But now, she was calm. Who knew Dr. Dre could be so soothing?
“Music is power,” Anderson said several hours later. “I love it.”
During her first run, she recorded an 83.00 score that held up for the rest of the competition. When it was time for her second and final run, she had clinched the gold medal and could use the performance as a victory lap. And, of course, this being the Olympic event from hell, the wind lifted and slammed Anderson on her celebratory run.
“Honestly, I’m kind of speechless,” Anderson said of winning. “I think everyone was pretty intimidated. I freakin’ sent it.”
It wasn’t just about the magic of sick beats and clever rhymes, however. That would be giving Dre too much credit. It wasn’t just about bad weather, bad luck and bad International Ski Federation leadership ruining a high-profile opportunity to sell a fledgling sport and accidentally creating a scenario in which only someone of Anderson’s experience could win. That would be giving Anderson too little credit.
This was about a champion being a champion. It was an awful day for the aesthetics of the sport, and fortunately, no snowboarder suffered a major injury while competing under the treacherous conditions. But it was a day that verified Anderson’s legend.
No one could win, but she did. Everyone complained, but she played her own music. She triumphed by putting together a routine so simple that, under ideal conditions, she figures might not have been good enough to advance past qualifying. But the weather drama shouldn’t diminish the accomplishment.
Style matters much to the growth of women’s slopestyle because it needs casual fans to see its athleticism and creativity, and the fear is that the crashes made it look like amateur hour. However, generally speaking, perseverance is essential to sport. Fortitude is essential, too. We admire grit and find beauty in struggle. If athletes don’t know how to win ugly sometimes, they don’t know how to win. If Anderson is a lesser champion because she survived winter terror and still found the medal stand, then the sport has an issue bigger than a single day of misfortune.
“I think, when we all signed up for snowboarding, we knew it wasn’t always bluebird, perfect, sunny days like we get in California,” said Anderson, 27, a South Lake Tahoe native. “So my attitude with contests and with even training on any given day is learning to adapt with the weather and doing your best in any given conditions.”
Anderson has been open about her mental struggles since winning gold four years ago. She saw the talent improving and wondered about her place in the sport. Was she too old? Could she learn the fancy new tricks that the next generation was doing? She thought about quitting. But that was just the doubt talking.
On Monday, Anderson came to win. Most of the field couldn’t handle that they wouldn’t be able to impress.
“Jamie is the most legendary female slopestyle rider of all time,” said Canadian Spencer O’Brien, a medal favorite who finished 22nd. “There’s no question about that. You saw her ability to ride through anything today.”
Others weren’t as complimentary. They weren’t criticizing Anderson as much as they were dismissing the notion of victory on a day in which you had to play it safe. With the wind howling, the snow did more acrobatic tricks than the snowboarders.
“This is not a contest,” said Cheryl Maas of the Netherlands, who finished 23rd. “This is just some luck. Like, toss a coin. You win. Okay, here’s a gold medal. Great. This is no performance show.
“My biggest sadness is for the sport. It’s not a one-man show. It’s, like, women’s snowboarding has progressed so much, and today you can’t even call it snowboarding if you ask me.”
Snowboarders like tricks and artistry. They want to wow the crowd. Even Anderson lamented that, despite the career highlight of a second gold medal, she wouldn’t remember her technical performance as anything special. Still, she beat the competition. And she had to strain to do it.
During her medal-clinching first run, Anderson wanted to do a more elaborate trick on the second jump. She had planned to do a Cab 900, which basically means she wanted to hit the jump switch and then spin 2½ times. As she started the rotation, she realized she couldn’t clear the jump. She wouldn’t be in the air long enough. So she changed her mind, limited herself to a 540-degree spin, landed safely and lived to make her third jump.
“It’s not the safest thing in the world,” Anderson said of her mid-air alteration. “I was shaken. I was happy I put a run down, but I knew it wasn’t my best style.”
It didn’t matter. It was the best that anyone in the field could manage. Anderson is a legend because she understands the nuance of the slopestyle discipline. Tricks get the most praise, but sport has more facets.
“I think there’s so many elements to it,” Anderson said. “You want to make your run look as graceful as you can, and I think sometimes if you’re not doing the most technical tricks, you can still make it look graceful. It’s something that goes a long way.”
Over more than a decade, Anderson has displayed the grace to win two Olympic golds and 14 X-Games medals. A no-win event? No way. Not in Anderson’s mind.
On Monday, with classic hip-hop playing in her head, Anderson persevered. She won. She pierced the wind. She rode through anything, all the way to gold. It was a trying day for women’s slopestyle, a dangerous day, but it’s hard to consider it a bad day. It ended with Anderson, its greatest figure, dancing on a podium.
She’s not old school. She’s timeless.