Jamie Anderson competes in the women's big air snowboarding qualification at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 on Feb. 19, 2018 in PyeongChang, South Korea.
PYEONGCHANG, South Korea -- Four members of Team USA will go down in history after taking part in the first ever big air snowboarding event at an Olympic Winter Games.
Jamie Anderson, Julia Marino and Jessika Jenson were able to make the top 12 in Monday’s women’s big air qualification, thus qualifying for the final. Hailey Langland, who finished sixth in slopestyle earlier in the Games, was 14th in big air with a first-run score of 73.00 and did not make the final.
The new event involves the athletes riding down a snow ramp that stands 49 meters tall (about 160 feet) and going off a single jump at the bottom. At its steepest, the ramp is 40 degrees. It can generate speeds as fast as 50 mph and can easily propel the riders 20 feet up in the air.
In Anderson’s words, it’s “freaking awesome.”
In the qualifying round, the athletes had two runs each. Only their highest score counts.
Anderson, fresh off the top of the podium after defending her Olympic gold medal in slopestyle last week, placed sixth with a top score of 90.00 on her second run.
As great as it was to qualify, what stuck out to her most about the event was the incredibly supportive atmosphere among the competitors. It was a breath of fresh air that all the snowboarders needed after a tough week where slopestyle qualification was canceled and the final was postponed due to strong winds.
“I’m just like, ‘Yes! This is what’s up!’” she said. “Girls charging and empowering each other. It was really unfortunate with the weather last week and not really being able to showcase how hard everyone’s worked in the last handful of years, but it was good fuel on the fire because everyone is charging today.”
The women were certainly taking advantage of the beautiful day. Unlike for slopestyle, no one was holding back today.
“The level of riding was insane,” Jenson said. “The girls were throwing down. Just killing it.”
The two-time Olympian performed her own signature twist on a 720, adding in a front flip on the second rotation. The trick earned her a 76.25 and guaranteed her the last spot in the final, even after a fall on her second run.
Marino, who finished ninth with a score of 85.25, agreed that between the blue skies and the “girl power” going on, they couldn’t have asked for a better way to introduce the entire world to the exhilarating event that is big air.
“I was definitely feeling good with the run I landed but compared to what some of the girls are doing here these days, it’s insane honestly,” she said. “It’s really cool to see how far women’s snowboarding has been pushed forward. You can just hear them stomping their tricks. You know it was a good trick and you can hear everyone going wild.”
As far as logistics go, she gives a lot of the credit to the PyeongChang Organizing Committee for building such a secure, fun jump for them. The PyeongChang ramp is the largest big air jump in the world, but they didn’t hesitate for even a second about whether it was safe.
“Just how well everyone’s done with keeping a positive attitude and having fun and enjoying the experience, and not only that but how well of a jump they put together for us,” Marino said. “It takes a lot of pressure off when you don’t have to adjust to a sketchy jump in sketchy weather. I’ve been having a blast on it so far.”
The men’s big air qualification is scheduled for Feb. 21, with the women’s final set to take place Feb. 23 and the men’s on Feb. 24. The finals will use a best two-out-of-three run format and the athletes plan on going even bigger, higher and crazier than ever before.
“This is definitely the most progressive, biggest event I’ve ever seen or been apart of,” Anderson said. “It just keeps getting better!”
Cat Hendrick is a student in the sports media program at the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. She is part of TeamUSA.org’s coverage team for the PyeongChang Games.