Jamie Anderson had a chance to become the first American to win two gold medals at a Winter Olympics since the great speedskater Bonnie Blair did it in both 1992 and 1994.
She came up just short.
Anderson won silver with in the inaugural Olympic big air event with a score of 177.25 Thursday in PyeongChang. She held the top spot in the competition until the final jump of the day, when rival snowboarder, event favorite and reigning big air world champion Anna Gasser of Austria stomped a switch double 1080 to bring home a total score of 185.00.
Zoi Sadowski Synnott of New Zealand took home bronze with a score of 157.50 in an event that was moved up one day because of strong winds forecasted for Friday.
Anderson will still head home with a nice haul. She successfully defended her 2014 gold medal in the women’s snowboard slopestyle with a win during the windy and controversial 2018 event in PyeongChang.
Gasser was one of the most outspoken critics of the IOC’s decision to go ahead with the slopestyle event in the face of dangerous winds. She described the event, which only saw 5 of 25 snowboarders complete their first run, as “a lottery.”
“I don’t think it was a fair competition and I’m a little disappointed in the organization that they pulled through with it,” said Gasser, who qualified first in the event, to reporters. “From my point of view I think it was not a good show for women’s snowboarding. For me, a competition should be fair, especially on that stage.”
In comparison, Thursday’s event was a very good show with the outcome in doubt until Gasser stuck her pressure-packed final jump. Lasting just over an hour and featuring some thrilling stunts, big air made for good television. It looks like the IOC’s decision to add it to its winter schedule was a good one.
Big air, which has been held at the world championships and X Games since 2003, features snowboarders gliding down a 49-meter ramp before jumping off a smaller ramp and trying to execute just one stunt before landing. Each rider gets three attempts; the final score is calculated by using the rider’s two highest-scoring jumps.
Think of it as the dunk contest of the Winter Olympics.
Anderson came out of the gate strong, landing a frontside 1080 on her first jump for 90 points and a double 900 for 87.25 points on her second. That enabled her to take a risk on the third jump with a frontside double cork 1080, but she couldn’t quite land it and that score was thrown out.
Gasser, who qualified in the top spot, landed all three of her jumps. Her second, a backside double cork 1080, put her in good position to win gold by nailing her third and final jump. The Austrian’s story is pretty interesting in itself. She didn’t start snowboarding until 17 and was on the Austrian national gymnastics team in her teens.
The two other Americans in the big final did not fare as well. Jessika Jenson fell on all three jumps and finished 11th out of 12 finalists. Julia Marino finished 10th.
The reigning X Games champion, 17-year-old American Hailey Langland, did not advance out of qualifying.
The men’s big air final is scheduled for Saturday in South Korea. Three Americans advanced out of qualifying: Kyle Mack, Chris Corning and 17-year-old Red Gerard, who won gold in the men’s slopestyle earlier these Olympics.
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