By Molly Atchison | Print Digital Manager
Of the sports included in the 2018 Winter Olympics, snowboarding has been one of the most exciting and rewarding for the United States. So far, men’s slopestyle, women’s slopestyle, women’s halfpipe, men’s halfpipe and men’s snowboard cross have all finished, and there’s still five events left in the category.
The U.S. has won gold in four of the five completed events, but what is perhaps the most impressive part is the wide age gap in the participants. The two men’s winners, Redmond Gerard and Shaun White have a 14-year age gap, and the women, Chloe Kim and Jamie Anderson have a 10-year gap between them. Team U.S.A. has an incredibly diverse team, and each placing member has had ample reason for their success.
17-year-old Summit County, Colo. native Redmond Gerard has dominated the slopes since he was just two years old, and continued to do so on an Olympic level on Feb. 11 in the men’s slopestyle final, bringing home the first U.S. gold with a come-from-behind upset, finishing with a score of 87.16. Gerard delivered more than anyone expected, and pulled off his tricks (including a ridiculous triple cork 1440 at the finish) with a unique flare only he could offer. Although this might have been the most entertaining adventures Gerard has given us yet — complete with a hilariously shamble-y pre-run story about late nights and missing jackets — Gerard has been conquering slopes since his 2015 Snowboarding World Cup debut in New Zealand.
Gerard has always had a flare for the dramatic, using his incredible balance to pull off backside moves that even the most experienced boarders would cringe at, such as the switch backside 1260 he threw in on the slopes last week. Perhaps the only boarder who could compete on Gerard’s level this run was Canada’s Mark McMorris, who’s talent for big backwards tricks earned him second place in this year’s Olympic games. Not only does he bring major chops to the Olympic stage, but Gerard also brings a level of youthful humor to a team that has been dominated by veterans for years.
Not to be out shined by, well, anyone, 31-year-old Shaun White earned his third Olympic gold this year in the men’s halfpipe event. Prior to the games, many argued that White had lost his edge, being one of the oldest members of the U.S. snowboarding team — he proved everyone wrong by absolutely slaying his event. White took on the halfpipe with a characteristic elegance and ease, and instantly, all the competition went away. When he hit his first two tricks, the world held its breath, because he had never attempted a double cork 1440 and a cab double cork 1440 together, and the last time he attempted the cab he crashed and burned. After successfully landing those two, he finished off with a slick trick, and proceeded to throw a fit at the bottom after earning a 97.75, and subsequently the gold. White’s antics at the bottom may have been slightly overdramatic, but when it’s the third Olympic gold medal you’ve won, I think there’s a bit of room for over-celebration.
The two snowboarding masters who truly stole the show, however, are the women. Chloe Kim is also a 17-year-old halfpipe boarder, but the California native’s raw skill put her as a frontrunner from the very start. Earlier in 2018, Kim placed first in the X-Games, and has been a finalist there since 2015, when she matched White’s record of a straight 100 halfpipe run.
In these Olympic games, there was no competition for Kim on the pipe, and she drew a strong fan base as well, including the local South Korean community. Kim’s family are first generation immigrants from South Korea, and she still has a large extended family presence in the area. With a support group in the area, it’s not surprising Kim came in first, but her McTwist and her flawlessly executed frontside moves might have helped a bit. And like her male counterpart Gerard, Kim’s animated social media presence and her relatable humor has made
Last, but certainly not least, Jamie Anderson took the stage in the women’s slopestyle. Anderson, a 27-year-old from South Lake Tahoe, CA, made history this year, being the first female snowboarder to win two gold medals in any category. Anderson, who’s talent for taking calculated jumps landed her in first. Only such an experienced snowboarder would be able to correct for the strong winds that blasted many of the slopestyle competitors, causing contestants to fall all over the place.
Perhaps due to the wind, or simply an off day for women’s slopestyle, Anderson managed gold with only an 83.00 run, comparatively low for a slopestyle event. Anderson, who played it safe during her run, still managed to execute some impressive tricks, and more importantly, landed them despite weather conditions. Her experience in the field, including her impressive X-Games record and her first Olympic run, gave Anderson a leg up, and allowed her to adjust her tricks in the air.
With five events to go, including difficult group events such as cross and speed-based events like slalom, the U.S. snowboarding team faces some strong competition. However, where other teams are carried by heavily experienced boarders, the U.S. team has a variety of old and new, and their selections for each event have proven solid so far. Sometimes, experience can save the day, but never underestimate the fresh-faced and fearless approach of young blood on the Olympic circuit.