PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — Red Gerard has yet to graduate from high school. But on a slopestyle course, the 17-year-old snowboarder is wise beyond his years.
On the eve of his Olympic debut, Gerard is considered a favorite to win a medal. But he is chill.
“I honestly don’t know what the Olympics is,” he said in a pre-Games press conference. “Clearly it’s big, everyone is here. But for me, it hasn’t kicked in how big the actual venue is. For me, it’s just another contest.”
Gerard is so relaxed that he and friend, teammate and PyeongChang roommate Kyle Mack skipped the team’s first on-slope reconnaissance on Tuesday. When their coaches knocked on their door and asked if they wanted to see the course, Gerard replied, “No, I’m sleeping!”
But Gerard’s laid-back attitude belies his chops on rails and big jumps. The small snowboarder describes himself as a “grenade” going down the course, and he exploded onto the scene at age 15 in 2015 when he finished fifth in his Dew Tour debut. He then finished fifth at the U.S. Open.
Gerard shot up another level a year ago when he won the first 2018 Olympic qualifier. He sealed his first Olympic nomination by winning the Toyota U.S. Grand Prix at Snowmass last month — the fourth Olympic qualifier — and taking second in the final qualifier. At 2018 X Games in Aspen, he finished fourth. It was his third trip to X Games — and best finish.
“He’s been in a lot of big events even younger,” said Dave Reynolds, U.S. snowboarding slopestyle coach. “He’s so young but he’s a veteran.”
So where did Redmond Gerard come from?
He was born in Ohio — the sixth of seven kids — and he credits one of his older brothers, Brendan, for getting the whole family into snowboarding. Gerard was 2 at the time, and the whole family snowboarded at Boston Mills/ Brandywine about a half-hour south of Cleveland.
In 2008, when Gerard was 7, the family moved to Breckenridge, Colorado. But not specifically for snowboarding. It was Gerard’s mom’s idea.
“My mom just loved it [in Colorado], and she wanted to move,” Gerard said. “My mom had like a midlife crisis. She needed to get out of Cleveland. That place can be very tough in the winter.”
Gerard’s sister Tieghan writes a food blog, Half Baked Harvest, which she began in 2012. It’s now one of the most successful food blogs in the world, and Gerard’s parents work fulltime on it, along with Tieghan.
With plentiful snow in Colorado’s mountains, Gerard constructed a snowboarding course in the backyard. Four years later, he was competing on the amateur Revolution Tour. And he kept progressing further in the sport. He has pursued his entire high school career online and has competed in the world’s biggest snowboarding events — all of them except the Olympic Winter Games.
With snowboarding slopestyle qualification starting on Saturday, Coach Reynolds sees some of Sage Kotsenburg in Gerard. When Kotsenburg won gold at slopestyle’s Olympic debut in Sochi, he was relaxed and carefree, noted Reynolds.
“I think that mentality that these athletes naturally have is good for this [big] stage,” Reynolds said. “It’s just Saturday to us. It’s just another day. So even though it’s the biggest competition, I don’t think they get caught up in the fact that they need to perform. The course works for you or it doesn’t. The weather works for you or it doesn’t. Things just happen.
“They all want to win, but you’re not trying to win. They’re just doing their thing, and it’s going to work out or not. Obviously, [Red] has gotten this far with skill but also with the mentality of let’s just see how it goes.”
The PyeongChang slopestyle course could benefit Gerard. It has big jumps and big rails — “tall and longer than we’ve ever seen before,” said Reynolds.
“Red is strong on rails and strong in the creative department,” Reynolds explained. “I’m not bummed that it’s challenging because I think he’ll do well in figuring it out.”
Gerard appeared unfazed at the course reports.
“I’m feeling pretty good,” said Gerard. “I kind of go into every contest with the same mindset. I want to land a run. I am pretty chill. It’s just snowboarding.”
A freelance writer based in Vermont, Peggy Shinn has covered four Olympic Games, PyeongChang is her fifth. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since its inception in 2008.