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February 10, 2014

Anderson completes U.S. Olympic sweep in slopestyle

Krasnaya Polyana, Russia — There was a lot of ugliness out on that supersized Olympic slopestyle course Sunday — crashes, splashes, face plants, even a cracked helmet.

As she so often does, Jamie Anderson made things look beautiful again.

The world’s most consistent rider came through big under a huge amount of pressure — “I was freaking out,” she said — riding clean on the rails and stomping down three high-flying jumps on her second, and make-or-break, trip down the mountain. She scored a 95.25 on that run to make America 2 for 2 in slopestyle’s colorful and treacherous debut on the Olympic stage.

“It’s kind of a big deal,” said the gold medalist, who earlier this winter had conceded she was heading to Russia with some reservations about what the Olympics really stand for. “This is The Event.”

Enni Rukajarvi of Finland won silver and Jenny Jones took bronze to give Britain its first Olympic medal on the snow.

A heady piece of history for Jones, the 33-year-old, one-time ski resort housekeeper from Bristol, who was unapologetic in revealing she prepared for the big day by watching “Downton Abbey” back at her place in the athletes village.

Jones calls Anderson a “hippie,” and it’s true, the 23-year-old from South Lake Tahoe, Calif., likes yoga and meditation — and granola every now and then.

“I think it’s fair to say Jamie marches to the beat of her own drummer,” American coach Mike Jankowski said. “She likes to do things her way out here.”

Much as she wanted to relax while getting ready for her final run, she said it was, indeed, a little disconcerting standing at the top of the mountain, watching rider after rider take a fall. Of the 24 runs in finals, no fewer than 17 of them included a hand drag, a fall or worse — and that wasn’t counting Austrian Anna Gasser’s failed climb back up the first embankment after she was given the ‘go’ sign a second too soon.

Isabel Derungs of Switzerland fell off a rail and face planted into the snow.

Silje Norendal, the Norwegian who handed Anderson one of her few losses two weeks ago at the Winter X Games, fell off the first rail, bobbled on the second, then washed out completely on her second jump.

Worst of all, Sarka Pancochova of the Czech Republic lost it on the first jump of her second run, the back of her head slamming against the snow. Her body skittered down the hill, flipping side to side, with her legs flopping like a rag doll. Somehow, she got up and rode down the hill under her own power. When she got there, she showed off a pencil-wide crack that ran the length of her helmet.

“Well, it seems broken, but that’s what they are for, right?” said Pancochova, who was not seriously injured, according to team officials.  

Against that backdrop, and overcast skies, Anderson, who lost her balance and nearly fell on the final jump of her opening run, reached the starting gate for the second.

“I was just visualizing, like, seeing myself already landing and coming down here,” she said. “Just trying to believe.”

She made a mini-Usain Bolt pose, as if getting ready to arch an arrow, pounded on her snow pants, then took off.

On a course thought by some to be too tough for women, where even Anderson fell and hurt her back during training, she was almost flawless.

She executed her half-rotating jumps on and off the rails — the most technical part of these runs — without problem, then set up for the show: Cab 720 jump with a grab, switchback 540 with a grab, frontside 720. That’s three jumps with a total of 5 1/2 rotations and two fancy grabs of the snowboard. The landings: All perfect. Everyone knew it, including Anderson, who spread-eagled her arms as she crossed the finish line. Safe.

“Jamie is a lot of things,” said 19-year-old Karly Shorr, who finished sixth. “Jamie is a leader. She’s an awesome person. She’s a good friend. She thinks about other people and, honestly, she’s a good competitor. She does whatever she has to do to win. She never cracks under pressure. She uses it. She lands every time.”

Jankowski said the United States came into slopestyle’s debut hoping for a pair of medals. Shaun White pulled out, which may have dimmed those chances, but Sage Kotsenburg came up with the ride of his life to win the men’s contest Saturday.

Anderson had something different riding on this outcome.

“Jamie has been the face of women’s slopestyle for quite a few years now,” Jankowski said of the four-time X Games champion who routed the competition in four of five Olympic qualifying contests this winter. “That’s all very important, but when you’re at the Olympics, you have to land your run at the right time to cement your legacy.”

Anderson will celebrate with five of her sisters, a brother, a niece and her 80-something Bavarian neighbor, Gabriela, who she calls her “spirit grandmother.”

Her mom, Lauren, was there, too, holding a red-and-yellow scarf that read “Team Every1.”

“She’s tough. She’s a go-getter. She knows how to stay calm when the tension is on, somehow,” Lauren said of a daughter who turned pro when she was 13.

Must be all that Zen-like peace she gets from yoga and meditation, right?

“No,” Mom said. “Chutzpah. She’s got that chutzpah thing.”

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