Women’s slopestyle athletes put 2018 in rearview mirror, look to dazzle in Beijing

Slopestyle Snowboarding at the 2022 Winter Olympics
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Halfpipe legend Kelly Clark knows exactly which Winter Olympics event she’s most looking forward to watching in Beijing, and it’s probably not what you think.

Yes, it’s a women’s snowboarding discipline, but no, it’s not Team USA’s charge into the women’s halfpipe competition led by reigning gold medalist Chloe Kim.

It’s women’s slopestyle.

“That specific aspect of snowboarding is so progressive and exciting that I’m really looking forward to seeing them get a really good opportunity to put on a good show,” said Clark, who won Olympic gold in 2002 and bronze in 2010 and 2014.

Slopestyle will be contested as an Olympic event for the third time in Beijing, but Clark told On Her Turf that she can’t help but give pause when remembering the 2018 competition in PyeongChang. She referred to the women’s slopestyle as a “tough, tough experience,” marred by what’s been described as “one of the most unpleasant, dangerous days snowboarding has ever seen.”

Frigid temperatures and gusty, bitter winds that spit ice turned the competition into a war of attrition, with American Jamie Anderson, from South Lake Tahoe, Calif., capturing her second straight slopestyle gold following a 75-minute weather delay. But the dangerous conditions dominated the headlines, and organizers were called into question for staging the contest in the first place. Only five of 25 athletes made it through their first runs without a stumble or crash and only four landed a clean second run.

“I’m not extremely proud of my run – back 5, cab 5, front 7 is pretty mellow,” said Anderson, who’s looking to unleash significantly bigger tricks in Beijing, including her frontside and Cab double cork 1080s. “That would barely get into finals in some events, but considering the conditions and everything, I feel pretty good.”

Concerns over putting riders in physical jeopardy was compounded by questions regarding whether FIS was prioritizing its skiing events – Alpine, in particular – above others. That same day as the women’s slopestyle, the International Ski Federation (FIS) canceled the women’s giant slalom because of high winds. The day prior, FIS canceled the women’s slopestyle qualifying round as well as the men’s downhill for the same reason.

“FIS always aims for the athletes to be able to stage their best performances, which some athletes have expressed was not the case today, but the nature of outdoor sports also requires adapting to the elements,” the federation said in a statement, acknowledging the concerns.

To that end, 2018 competitors expressed disappointment at not being able to showcase the progression women’s slopestyle had achieved since its debut in Sochi.

“You can still hear it when you when you talk to the athletes,” Clark, who will commentate snowboarding for NBC Olympics during the Beijing Winter Games. “You know, it was such a difficult experience that I’m looking forward to them getting a great opportunity to represent this sport, because not only was it disappointing for the women in South Korea, but it was a poor reflection of their ability as well.”

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Even though Anderson walked away with a gold medal, she described the event as “traumatic.”

“All the girls I competed with thought that I wanted the competition to happen because I’m good at competing in sh**** weather,” she told NBC Olympics last fall. “I think I’m just good at competing, period. But it was really pretty traumatic. Like I remember being so pissed. … I don’t want to sound cocky, but like, ‘I got this sh**.’ Whether or not there’s good weather, I was still gonna go out there and do my best.”

Anderson said she channeled the negativity into her silver-medal performance in big air 10 days later: “I think kind of all that negativity and judgment and things that were out of my control — I kinda decided to use it to my advantage and say like, ‘Screw everyone for hating.'”

Yet, despite her two-medal haul, Anderson said she went home from South Korea “in tears.”

“It took me a lot to even be proud of myself,” she said. “I believed what the media said, and I believe what these girls were saying behind my back, and being really rude. And it wasn’t until I got back to California and got to reflect on the whole experience and talk to one of my mentors, and he was like, ‘I think showing up and being able to perform in a gnarly wind storm, in a snowstorm, in those elements, just shows really strong character for like working with the elements and just flowing with what is and not letting it psych you out.’

“And now, looking back at it, although I do have like sad memories of it, I also have so much respect for myself and know that that wasn’t easy.”

There was no talk of second chances, however, when Anderson, fellow 2018 U.S. teammates Hailey Langland and Julia Marino, and 18-year-old rookie Courtney Rummel met the media ahead of the Olympic slopestyle competition in Beijing, but there was a definite mix of anticipation and adjusted expectations ahead of their next turn in the Olympic spotlight.

“I feel still really passionate about pushing my riding,” said the 31-year-old Anderson, who could become the first snowboarder to win three consecutive gold medals in any event. “I think I’m capable of more, progression-wise, in my own runs. That’s why I’m still here.”

Langland, who hails from San Clemente, Calif., was just 17 in PyeongChang when she finished sixth in the slopestyle (and 14th in big air). She said she “wasn’t excited” about her run there, admitting the whole experience “kinda made me fall out of love with snowboarding a little bit.” But she brings a new perspective with her to Beijing.

“My goals are completely different at this Games; I just want to put down the run I came here to do,” said Langland, noting she put too much pressure on herself in 2018. “These last four years have not only changed my perception on what I want out of life – I wanted to be the best and I wanted medals, but my focus has definitely shifted. … I’m just trying to make the most out of every experience. I wish I could have given that advice to myself when I was 17 in a pretty crazy position in Korea.”

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Marino, from Westport, Conn., finished 11th in 2018 (and 10th in big air) and expressed a similar sentiment: “I’ve learned a lot in the four years from the past (Olympics), and I’m trying to take some of those lessons and apply them here. I’m coming in with a little bit less expectations and just trying to enjoy the experience.”

Also returning to compete in Beijing are 2018 silver medalist Laurie Blouin of Canada and bronze medalist Enni Rukajarvi of Finland. However, it’s New Zealand’s Zoi Sadowski-Synnott who may pose the biggest threat to Anderson’s bid for a three-peat.

Sadowski-Synnott, who captured big air bronze in 2018, won consecutive world championships in 2019 and 2021, and in January she won X Games gold while becoming the first woman to land back-to-back double cork 1080s in a slopestyle run.

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2022 Winter Olympics: Women’s Slopestyle Snowboarding Schedule

Event  Date/Time (U.S. Eastern Time) Date/Time (Beijing, China)
Women’s Slopestyle Qualification 2/4/22 9:45 PM 2/5/22 10:45 AM
Women’s Slopestyle Final 2/5/22 8:30 PM 2/6/22 9:30 AM

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On Her Turf editor Alex Azzi and the NBC Olympics Research team contributed to this report.