Less than two weeks before making her Winter Youth Olympic Games debut, Hailey Langland had several other debuts to take care of first.
The 15-year-old competed in her first Winter X Games on Friday in Aspen, Colorado, and was the youngest in the women’s slopestyle snowboarding field by several years. Taking it one step further, Langland earned her first career X Games podium, taking home the bronze medal with a score of 88.00.
Still just a junior in high school, Langland displayed composure far beyond her years as early as her first run, putting down a score of 85.00 to lead the field. She bettered that score with an 88.00 on the second run, though losing the lead as Canada’s Spencer O’Brien scored a 91.00. Her third run looked to be her strongest until she put her hand down landing a trick, earning her slight deductions and an 87.66.
“Today went amazing. It’s a good day to be alive — that’s for sure,” Langland said. “It hasn’t really sunk in yet but I’m probably going to freak out later — this honestly feels like a dream.”
Langland was looking to become the youngest women’s slopestyle X Games gold medalist – the current record is 16 years and four months, held by Jamie Anderson.
Anderson struggled a bit in her first two runs in Aspen (and her first two runs after breaking her collarbone two months ago), putting up scores of 77.00 and 31.66 to put her in fifth place. But the 2014 Olympic gold medalist came up huge when it mattered most, executing her final run almost flawlessly for a score of 89.00, good enough for the silver medal. O’Brien’s 91.00 held up for gold and Langland's 88.00 for bronze.
"I’m so proud of myself and I want to work harder — this event brings that energy," Anderson said. "I was struggling today — I switched up my run completely at the end. I never did that backside rodeo on the bigger jump and I was so scared. But to be able to overcome and at least put something down, I’m really thankful and proud."
Langland is fresh off of her breakout 2015 season, in which she earned her first major win at the Mammoth stop of the U.S. Grand Prix in 2015. She then won bronze at the Dew Tour in Breckenridge, putting the world on notice that she was one to watch in the future. Her silver medal proves that the future is now, and she will enter the Lillehammer 2016 Winter Youth Olympic Games, which begin Feb. 12, as a heavy favorite.
While Langland was making her X Games debut, Anderson is the most decorated rider in X Games slopestyle history, male or female. She has medaled in each of her X Games slopestyle appearances dating back to 2006 and her medal total now reaches 11, with four golds, five silvers and two bronzes. Her last four X Games medals have been silver, a testament to her authoritative and consistent riding.
With Anderson and Langland leading the field, U.S. women’s slopestyle snowboarding looks to factor into the podium discussion for years to come.