SOCHI, Russia — She was as prohibitive a favorite as perhaps any athlete competing in these Winter Games. But even a four-time X Games champion, the dominant figure in her sport, knew the drop-in from the top of an Olympic mountain was a whole different ball of wax.
“It’s the biggest stage in the world,’’ said Jamie Anderson, the reigning queen of women’s snowboard slopestyle. “More of the world is watching and you start to sense that once you get here.’’
The nerves — and nausea — kicked in.
“There was a lot going through my mind,’’ she acknowledged. “I did feel a little bit sick. I couldn’t really eat today because I was just so excited and so nervous. Just being up there and waiting, it’s been such a long road to Sochi and then the moment was here.’’
So the 23-year-old Anderson reached down, strapped on her board, and did what she always seems to do when the moment arrives. She seized it.
Throwing down a steady second run in which she deftly handled the tricky rail section and the progressively bigger jumps, Anderson earned a 95.25 score and gave the United States a clean sweep of the inaugural snowboard slopestyle golds. Her victory Sunday came a day after teammate Sage Kotsenburg, as much a long shot as Anderson was a favorite, won the men’s event.
“I just had to visualize and trust and really believe that I could land that run I wanted to, and to remember to have fun along the way,’’ she said. “It is snowboarding and it is what I love to do.’’
When the score came in for the final rider and Anderson realized the gold was in her possession, she danced around and waved her arms triumphantly.
“I didn’t really even process what happened today,’’ she said. “It was such an amazing day.’’
Enni Rukajarvi of Finland took silver and Jenny Jones won bronze, the first Briton to win an Olympic medal on snow.
While Kotsenburg is straight out of snowboard central casting, rocking his too-cool-for-school attitude, Anderson is more reserved, but no less free spirited. She spent the night before the biggest competition of her life listening to meditation music, burning some sage (thinking of her teammate, perhaps), and doing some yoga, of which she is a regular practitioner.
“I haven’t gone to any yoga classes since I got here,’’ Anderson said. “It’s hard to take the time to slow down. I did some mantras and relaxed.’’
And in the days leading up to her gold-medal performance, Anderson found some solace at the place she knows best, the mountain. But this time she was riding just for fun.
“I’ve never been to Russia, and coming here and seeing the skies open up and this whole mountain range looks so empowering,’’ she said. “The first day we went ‘soul shredding’ on the mountain and I could not believe how much powder there was. I haven’t gotten to free ride all winter, so to take a moment and go have fun and cruise, and kind of get lost in the mountains felt so good.
“It was reconnecting to why we actually ski and snowboard, because of the pure fun and excitement it brings to us.’’
That excitement can be traced to the mountains of her native South Lake Tahoe, Calif., where she began snowboarding at age 9. One of eight children (five sisters, two brothers), mornings into late afternoon were spent developing a passion.
“I just fell in love with it,’’ said Anderson, who won her first X Games title at 15. “The mountains, having that freedom to explore. Now that I look back, we lived such a fun, crazy childhood. I hope that when I have kids some day we can live the same way. We were up on the mountains every day, learning new tricks, trying to build jumps.’’
The Anderson family was out in full force (save for one brother) at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park Sunday.
Included in the support group was the woman Anderson calls her “spirit grandmother.’’
“She was my neighbor in my condo complex,’’ Anderson explained with a smile. “Her husband passed away like 20 years ago, and she had no kids. So we would hang out. She’s such a blessing in my life. She’s in her mid-80s, and she made it out here. She said today I made her cry. She was so precious.
“They’re my No. 1 team, they just help me in so many ways. To see my family today just brought tears to my eyes. To see my parents, all of my sisters came, my brother, his girlfriend, my grandma, it was such a special moment I’ll remember forever.’’
Concerns had been raised during training runs late last week about the size of the jumps, and Anderson acknowledged the degree of difficulty.
“This course was super challenging, everything about it,’’ she conceded. “The rails were really technical, the jumps were really big, and just kind of weird transitions. But every day they got better and better, and by today when we were riding, it was just so fun. I hadn’t really landed the run I landed in finals at all.’’
Asked to explain the growing popularity of slopestyle and why people are drawn to it, Anderson had ready the answer one might expect.
“Because it’s fun,’’ she said exuberantly. “Snowboard slopestyle brings a new, fresh energy to the Olympics. It’s really creative, and something that almost anyone can connect to.’’