The Associated Press PYEONGCHANG (AP) — Jamie Anderson finished her run, glanced up at the scoreboard and stuck out her tongue for the world to see, a gesture not made out of frustration but simple relief.
The American snowboarding star had reached the bottom of wind-whipped Phoenix Snow Park in the women’s slopestyle finals intact and upright.
On a day where conditions were tricky at best and treacherous at worst — one that left many in the 25-woman final wondering what they were even doing there in the first place — it was more than enough for Anderson to make Olympic history.
The 27-year-old from California became the first female snowboarder to win two Olympic golds, successfully defending the title she won in Sochi four years ago by putting up an 83.00 during the first of her two runs. It was more than enough to top a field more focused on mere survival than putting on a show.
Yet the enduring image from slopestyle’s second Olympic appearance won’t be Anderson beaming from the victory podium, but the hour of carnage that preceded it as rider after rider either crashed or bailed or did some combination of the two.
Even Anderson wasn’t immune. She washed out in her second run with the gold already wrapped up.
Laurie Blouin of Canada took silver, with Finland’s Enni Rukajarvi finishing third, a testament more to their courage than their actual skill.
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 course ended up being an unpredictable mess anyway.
“I was trying to keep the spirits high, like, ‘Let’s run it,’” Anderson said. “A handful of the girls were like, ‘No it’s not safe’ and things like that. It’s not like what we’re doing is safe anyhow.”
Maybe, but there’s pushing the limit and then there’s trying to ride in the middle of what several competitors likened to a tornado.
Only nine of the combined 50 runs were anywhere close to clean. The event became like a NASCAR race with skis, only there was no caution flag in sight. The wind kept whipping. And the riders kept going. And falling. And flailing.
Sarka Pancochova of the Czech Republic openly wondered why officials thought it was OK to push back the Alpine events about an hour away, but let the snowboarders try to make a go of it anyway.