SOCHI -- There will be plenty of time, further down, to sort out the various tricks that made up Jamie Anderson’s gold medal-winning slopestyle run. In this moment, at the tail end of her press conference, she was busy untangling the cords of her earbuds from the necklaces under her Team USA/Burton kit. The disparate strands were snagged and knotted, as will happen when one spends the afternoon sailing off giant kickers and spinning through space.
“These are my mantra beads,” the 23-year-old Californian replied when I asked her to identify her various necklaces. A yoga instructor and friend from Breckenridge had given them to her, Anderson reported, but only after infusing them with “sacred energy.” Okay, how about the stone suspended from the bead necklace?
“It’s a clear quartz power stone.”
The other necklace? “Moonstone.” Of course it is.
“You should see what’s in my purse.”
For the second straight day, an American had won a slopestyle gold medal. For the second straight day, that American was possessed of a personality even bigger than the talent that made them Olympic champion.
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Jamie Anderson is one of eight children from South Lake Tahoe. She was home-schooled and grew up helping out with her mother’s lawn care business. She earned money by wading into the brisk snowmelt of the Truckee River, retrieving golf balls she would then sell back to the golfers. “She’d be gone for an hour and come back with 60 dollars,” Lauren Anderson recalled, “and I’d think, I’ve gotta change careers.”
To calm her nerves on the eve of the first-ever women’s Olympic slopestyle finals, Anderson put on “meditation music,” she said, lit a few candles, burned some sage, and “tried to do a little bit of yoga.”
“I knew the yoga was coming,” Jenny Jones interjected with an eye roll. Jones, the bronze medalist from Great Britain, was also seated at the table. Apparently, she and some of her snowboarding peers like to needle Anderson for being, as Jones says, “a hippy from Tahoe.”
(Asked what she’d done the night before, Jones replied, “I watched Downton Abbey.”)
They’d all been to the venue at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park the day before, and they’d all learned the same lesson. Sage Kotsenburg had won the men’s slopestyle with a run big on style -- he tarted up his tricks with a series of grabs as original as they were pleasing to the eye -- and not quite as heavy on technical prowess. Rider after rider threw the triple-cork flips that were thought to be the sport’s Next Big Thing. The judges responded with yawns. We are less interested in adding up your rotations, they seemed to be saying, than we are in the style and panache with which you execute them. The same six judges worked the women’s final Sunday. That was a very good thing for Anderson.
“There’s a fluidity to her movement, and it’s a beautiful thing to watch,” said Bill Enos, Team USA’s slopestyle coach. “She reminds me of water flowing down the course.”
“Jamie just has the smoothest style,” her teammate Karly Shorr concurred. “She’s so strong, and everything she does is sick.” She meant it as a compliment.
Soon after winning slopestyle in the Winter X Games at the age of 15, Anderson emerged as the most dominant woman in the brief history of her sport. She rolled into Sochi like a freight train, having won 26 events since 2011, including four out of the five U.S. Olympic qualifiers. None of which mattered after she suffered a momentary lapse on the final jump of her first run Sunday. She released her grab early on a frontside seven, then dragged her left hand to avoid crashing. That hand-drag turned a 95-plus run into an 80.75.
Before hopping on the snowmobile that took her back up the hill, Anderson found her mother along the fence-line. They shared a long embrace. Team USA coach Mike Jankowski reminded her to “smile and breathe,” although it probably wasn’t necessary; that’s her custom before dropping in. It centers her and reminds her, as she says, to “not take everything too seriously, [to] bring some light into this.
“At the end of the day, it’s snowboarding. We started all this because of how much joy it brings to be out here on the mountain with our friends.”
The light disappeared for a few scary minutes during Sarka Pancochova’s second run. Returning to earth after a jump, she caught her heelside edge, her head slapping sickeningly backward. The 23-year-old Czech ragdolled to the bottom of the jump and lay still. A few minutes later, she was up and able to board down the mountain under her own power, where she showed the other riders her helmet, which had a four-inch crack on the point of impact.
Adding insult to injury for poor Pancochova, the next rider down knocked her first run off the podium. Finland’s Enni Rukjarvi’s 92.5 was still the score to beat when Anderson stood atop the pipe five riders later. Watching from below were her parents, five sisters, one brother “and my spirit-grandma” -- a spry, cheerful octogenarian named Gabriella, also from South Lake Tahoe.
Anderson smiled. She breathed. She tapped her chest four times with her left hand and dropped in. Her ride was a carbon copy of the first -- she floated effortlessly over the rails, threw a huge, flawless cab 720, followed by a lethal switchback five -- until the final jump. This time she held the grab all the way through. If her left hand dabbed down briefly at the end of that frontside 720, surely there was no contact with the snow. And if there was, the judges didn’t care, so strong was her overall impression.
The moment Anderson stomped that landing, Rukajarvi, Jones and the Swiss rider Sina Candrian -- who’d held first, second and third places -- looked at each other and nodded, conceding they’d all been bumped down. Anderson’s score, 95.25, confirmed it.
She worked her way through the mix zone, beaming, interspersing cogent remarks with such exclamations as, “I can’t believe these shenanigans!” and “Holy guacamole!”
And finally, when the media was finished with her:
“Where’s my FAMILY?”