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BY PEGGY SHINN I JAN. 8, 2014
|Jamie Anderson poses for a portrait during the United States Olympic Committee promotional shoot in West Hollywood, Calif.|
With slopestyle snowboarding about to make its Olympic debut, Shaun White may be the one making headlines. His third place finish at the Copper Grand Prix before the holidays put him in the lead of Olympic qualification. But it’s 23-year-old Jamie Anderson who rules slopestyle’s rails and jumps.
Anderson currently leads the women’s standings to make the 2014 U.S. Olympic Team in slopestyle. A four-time Winter X Games gold medalist and the youngest to ever medal at Winter X, she has dominated almost every slopestyle event that she’s entered in the past two seasons and is a favorite to win gold in Sochi.
But laidback Anderson, with a permanent smile and blond hair spilling from under a Panama “straw” hat, talks more about the environment and the beauty of the mountains than winning snowboarding competitions. But her competitiveness is as much a part of her background as growing up in Meyers, Calif., a former Pony Express stop near the base of California’s Sierra-at-Tahoe ski resort.
One of eight siblings — five sisters, two brothers — Anderson learned to snowboard at age 9 after her older sisters, Joanie and Stacie, gave her hand-me-down equipment. Homeschooled, the Anderson sisters spent most winter days riding through the terrain parks and enchanting forests at Sierra.
“Jamie was the cute little sister who was hanging around in our Rippers (development) program,” said Sierra general manager John Rice. “I think all of us have a story where we bought her cocoa or French fries. She would often come into my office just to get a Starburst and warm up and sometimes ask for a ride home.”
Athletically talented, the Anderson sisters won just about every U.S. Amateur Snowboarding Association event that they entered. In 2004, Joanie, then 17, qualified for the Winter X Games. Meanwhile, 13-year-old Jamie also competed in a boardercross X Games qualifier.
“I was this little grommet competing with full-grown women,” said Jamie, with an easy laugh. “I ended up winning the whole race and got a spot at X Games.”
Jamie became one of the youngest athletes to ever qualify for Winter X and finished ninth in boardercross that year, only four places behind Joanie.
But Jamie’s real love was the terrain park, and by 2006, she qualified for Winter X in slopestyle. She won a bronze medal and, at the time, was the youngest person to ever medal at Winter X (10 days younger than Shaun White when he first medaled at the event in 2002).
In 2007, Jamie won her first Winter X gold. It happened to come on the same day — almost the same hour — that Joanie won gold in boardercross. And Jamie had to come from behind on her final slopestyle run to win, doing a trick that she had never done in competition.
“I remember seeing her step up to that situation with no fear,” said Rice. “It was a testament to her competitive spirit and her ability to remain calm and stay within herself when she’s in top level competition.”
As the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games neared, Jamie considered qualifying in halfpipe. She had competed in the event throughout her career with limited success, including a win at the Burton New Zealand Open in 2008. But she admits that she did not fully commit to qualifying.
|Jamie Anderson competes in the women's FIS Snowboard Slopestyle World Cup at the U.S. Snowboarding and Freeskiing Grand Prix on Dec. 22, 2013 in Copper Mountain, Colo.
“Maybe because part of me was a little afraid of not making it, so I was kind of like I’ll try,” she said. “It wasn’t like I’m determined and I’m going to work hard and make it happen.”
When the International Olympic Committee added slopestyle to the 2014 Olympic program, Jamie does not remember where she was. But she was excited. And committed. Over the past two seasons, she has won Dew Tours, grand prix titles, and two Winter X Games gold medals — and often by several points. At the 2013 Breckenridge Dew Tour in mid-December, the first Olympic qualifier, she beat Finland’s Enni Rukajärvi, 96 points to 89.4. A week later in the second qualifier at Copper, she qualified first with a 96 but fell both runs in the finals and finished seventh. Still, she leads the Olympic qualification standings.
Jamie is reluctant to talk about what separates her from the field. It’s not in her nature to boast. When pressed, she finally attributes it to her fluidity on the rails and jumps in slopestyle courses — “just trying to make it look effortless, trying to feel effortless,” she said.
“If it doesn’t feel right or it’s too forced, I’m not as inspired to do it,” she explained. “Like I really want to kind of take the path of water, least resistance, and go with the flow, the course will guide me.”
She may go with the flow. But Rice says she rides both gracefully and aggressively — a style she learned as a young Ripper training under long-time coach Brady Gunsch, who has kids ride in all conditions so ice or fresh snow won’t faze them on competition days.
“She kind of rides like a guy,” said Gunsch. “She really rides rails and boxes like no other female out there.”
Jamie also rides “completely within herself,” said Rice, remaining calm in competition. Gunsch attributes this ability to her vast experience — from grassroots competitions as a kid to a decade of Winter X Games. And beneath her go-with-the-flow persona, she has learned to work very hard.
Jamie also knows when not to compete. Last winter, she skipped the world cup in Sochi because she was burned out. Instead, she went to a meditation and yoga retreat in Big Sur, Calif., where she met a healer from Siberia. “It was almost like Russia in a sense came to me,” she said.
When she found out the slopestyle in Sochi had been canceled due to poor weather, she thanked her intuition.
Jamie also likes to go home whenever she can — to Sierra, the enchanting ski resort, and the community. Last May, working with Snow Park Technologies and Sierra, she did a 65-foot gap jump over a road for an episode of National Geographic’s “Mountain Movers” TV series. It was a jump she had wanted to do since she was little. Rice was happy to help build the jump but had a lump in his throat during filming, thinking what might happen if she fell 30 feet to the pavement with cars and busses driving by.
When Jamie jumped the gap, she did not do a simple straight air. She did a backside 180.
“She jumped it so gracefully, it was as if a butterfly took off from one side and landed on the other side,” said Rice proudly.
With less than a month — and three more Olympic qualifiers — to go before the start of the Sochi Games, neither Rice nor Coach Brady is worried about Jamie.
“She doesn’t have to have to feel all this pressure that she has to win,” said Rice. “She’ll always be, in my mind, the best female snowboarder there ever was.”
Peggy Shinn is a freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org. This story was not subject to the approval of the United States Olympic Committee or any National Governing Bodies.