South Lake Tahoe could hardly ask for better representation on the world stage. Jamie Anderson is modest, open and sincere. She is kind and thoughtful. She’s supremely talented (more on that later). And, now, she’s an Olympic gold medalist.
The 23-year-old Tahoe local has earned her place in snowboarding history. She is the first women’s Olympic champion of snowboarding slopestyle — a discipline few thought would ever make it to the world’s greatest sporting event. But regardless of results, Anderson is an athletic icon with a legacy.
What does it take to be an icon? In my opinion, an icon is above the measurement available in competition. They are graceful and natural. Their performances often have an impact on the sport as a whole. They handle their victories with acumen and humbleness. They’re usually smiling.
If you missed the Olympic slopestyle event, Anderson’s smile was ubiquitous as ever. Her post-event interviews were incredible. Her bashfulness was delightful. The joy on her face in the photos after her winning run was enough to make a grown snowboarder choke up a little.
But the really impressive part about her run wasn’t the sheer happiness that accompanied it, albeit that’s very important. Her decisive move to put style and consistency before technicality is what really showed her mastery of the sport.
While other girls were hucking themselves into out-of-control flips and 1080s, Anderson kept calm and stuck with a run she knew she could land. With two 720s and a switch 540, that run was by no means easy — especially on a Russian course that scared Shaun White into dropping out. And not only did she land the tricks she visualized, she did them with admirable style.
This is where I think Anderson plays a role in snowboarding’s history. Of course, winning the premier slopestyle event of the Olympics is a big deal. But even larger and, I believe, more impactful is the way the event was judged. In the men’s event as well, the judges focused on creativity, finesse and nuance. This is a far cry from past competitions where the biggest spins often won regardless of artful technique.
Whether or not Anderson realized this change in the judges before her run doesn’t really matter. What she did was illustrate it.
So will all competitions from now on be judged on fluidity and form? Unlikely. But I think we’ve reached a point where finesse, originality and consistency will play a larger role. Considering one of the women slopestyle contenders nearly broke her helmet in half trying to push it, I hope so.
For this, I say thank you Jamie Anderson. Thank you for representing South Lake Tahoe and the U.S. well. And thank you for helping to change snowboarding for the better.