By: Maisie Stout
The U.S. stands strong in third place overall in the Winter Olympic Games held in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Americans are dominating the snowboarding competitions with recurring athletes and young hopefuls alike taking control of both the slopestyle and the halfpipe. So far, the only gold medals for the U.S. have been for men’s and women’s snowboarding competitions.
Red Gerard, a 17-year-old snowboarder from Ohio, was the first person from the United States to win a gold medal in the 2018 games. He is also the youngest person to win the men’s slopestyle competition on record. Gerard went from last place to having a spot on the podium after a successful third and final go at the slope. His first two runs in the finals were flops, leaving his third run as his last hope for a spot on the podium. He surprised everyone with a run that was awarded with an 87.16, putting him in first place. The slopestyle competition consists of a variety of obstacles and slopes. Each snowboarder is scored based on amplitude of jumps, execution of tricks, and originality of their run.
The second gold medal went to Jamie Anderson, who despite rough weather conditions, was able to pull off a winning run. The weather during the event upset many riders and effected their performance, but Anderson was reportedly “down for anything” and landed all of her jumps in record perfection. This was Anderson’s second Olympics and her second gold medal in the women’s slopestyle.
The other two gold medals won by U.S. athletes were by Chloe Kim and Shaun White in the men’s and women’s halfpipe. Chloe Kim, an American citizen whose parents immigrated from South Korea in 1982, was the youngest woman in Olympic history to win the women’s snowboarding halfpipe. Kim is just 17 years old. Kim mentioned in an interview that she was snowboarding for South Korea, in spirit, and the U.S. and hoped to make both countries proud. She is only actually representing the U.S. in the games, but she wanted to also represent her Korean heritage. Her first run in the finals was the gold medal run at 93.75. No other snowboarder was able to beat that score, so her third run became a “victory lap” which ended up giving her a record-breaking score of 98.25, less than two points from a perfect score. The halfpipe is scored similarly to the slopestyle competition, but instead of boarding down a hill, they are boarding in a half pipe which is made of packed snow similar to concrete. Another female, Arielle Gold, was able to take the bronze in the halfpipe as well with a score of 85.75.
Shaun White’s journey to redemption was certainly a rough one. Just months before Olympic qualifiers, White suffered a traumatic injury while training in New Zealand. White lost control during a trick that consisted of four body rotations, resulting with his face making contact with the edge of the pipe. Many people do not know that even though the pipe is made of snow, it is packed solid and is basically concrete. White had to get 62 stitches on his face and mouth. White recovered quickly, and while the accident scared him it also motivated him to go for gold in Pyeongchang. In January of this year, White secured his spot on the Olympic team by scoring a perfect 100 at the U.S. Grand Prix.
White’s quest ended in success as the 31-year-old became a three-time Olympic gold medalist on Tuesday. Four years ago, White had a fluke performance and received 4th place at the Sochi Olympics. Ever since, he has been determined to come back and win the gold. In qualifiers on Monday, White was set on getting the highest score to reserve going last in the finals. It is important for riders to go last so that they watch the competition and decide how they want to take their run. Most riders have a set routine before they even come to the games, but mix things up depending on how stiff the competition is. White did secure his spot as the top rider of the day by earning a 98.50 on his second run. In the finals, his first run put him on top at 94.25 which was soon bested by Ayumu Hirano from Japan with a 95.25. Both White and Hirano had “throw away” scores on their second runs, meaning they fell at some point in their run. In the final round, Hirano was still not able to get a higher score than his first. White, however, delivered a performance worthy of a gold medal. His second run, practically flawless, got him a 97.75 and a spot on top of the podium.
Other snowboarding events yet to come are men’s and women’s snowboard cross on Thursday, big air on the 19th, and the parallel giant slalom on the 22nd.