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Wednesday, February 5, 2014
Will Jamie Anderson up the ante?

By Devon O'Neil
XGames.com

It is three weeks before the 2014 Winter Olympics, and Jamie Anderson, the best female slopestyle snowboarder in the world, has just arrived at an organic café in California. She is meeting Hannah Teter for lunch and conducting a phone interview about the fast-approaching Sochi Games. Teter is still a few minutes away.

"Hold on one second," Anderson tells the person who's on the phone. "I'm going to order a juice."

She turns to the café server. "Can you make it extra green? Just maybe add some kale or spinach or whatever you put in it to break up the lactic acid. And a large one."

For a 23-year-old who meditates and hugs trees before dropping into slopestyle courses, the order is right in line with Anderson's image. She is the sport's doyenne of Zen, a voice for the environment, a fan of Burning Man -- and also, it happens, one of America's best hopes for an Olympic snowboarding gold medal, next to Kelly Clark and Shaun White in halfpipe.

The hard-to-impress Norwegians agree: Anderson has the best rail style in the women's field.

But on Thursday, when slopestyle makes its debut as an Olympic event, Anderson will play a different role than is her norm. She has won eight of the past 12 contests she has entered -- two out of every three. But she is also coming off a revealing second-place finish two weeks ago at X Games Aspen.

Silje Norendal, a 20-year-old Norwegian, beat Anderson on a day when Anderson posted a score of 95.66. Anderson had a chance to answer Norendal's 96-point final run, but on her last jump she under-rotated a Cab 900, which she has yet to land in competition, and crashed.

Whether Norendal -- who also edged out Anderson for the win at X Games Tignes last spring -- has caught up to Anderson's level of riding in slopestyle shall be left open for debate. In Aspen, Norendal spun her tricks all four ways -- a skill which Anderson mastered years ago that remains rare among women. And she finished her run with a Cab 720 and switch backside 540 -- longtime staple tricks in Anderson's jump line. The table is set for a tasty rematch in Sochi.



Anderson, an outspoken proponent of snowboarding's individualist roots, a rider who trains without a coach and models her riding after Norwegian men, was 8 years old when snowboarding legend Terje Haakonsen boycotted the 1998 Nagano Games.

At the time, Haakonsen was unquestionably the best halfpipe rider in the world, but he did not agree with snowboarding's inclusion in the Olympics. His decision to decline his spot on the Norwegian team made him a hero among core snowboarders, who despised the fact that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) had given the International Ski Federation (FIS) control of the Olympic snowboarding events, and disagreed with its governance and rules.

Anderson didn't start snowboarding until 1999, but she knows the impact of Haakonsen's Olympic stiff-arm well. She says she considered boycotting the Sochi Games just as Haakonsen did 16 years ago -- albeit for entirely different reasons.

"I've always been so excited to go to the Olympics, and it's a little sad that now it's finally happening and there's so much negative stuff going on in Russia between the terrorist attacks, the gay law and all the craziness," she said. "I want to compete in the Olympics, but I also want them to respect the environment, the athletes, everything -- and not make it all about McDonald's.

"I haven't really done anything else because I've been doing really well without [a harder trick]" Anderson

"What Terje did back in the day was pretty powerful. Not that I feel that's my path, but it's definitely something I thought about."

Anderson, the fifth of eight children, grew up in South Lake Tahoe, Calif., irreverent from the beginning. Her dad was a firefighter; her mom homeschooled Jamie and her siblings. She still lives in her hometown, alone in a lakeside condo, surrounded by houseplants.

"She has always been the little firecracker of the family," said her sister Joanie, 27, who won X Games gold in Snowboarder X in 2007, the same year Jamie won her first slopestyle gold. "She was always the most outspoken, usually the one in trouble, but she was really just herself and she stood out that way."

Anderson made her X Games debut as a racer when she was 13. Since moving to the terrain park, she has medaled in all eight XG Slopestyle contests she's entered - four of those medals are gold. Though her decision to ride without a coach is not unheard of in the slopestyle ranks, she does it because she likes having "no one on my case."

In lieu of a personal snowboarding tutor, Anderson observes other riders, mostly men. "I really like watching the Norwegian boys like Ståle [Sandbech] and Torstein [Horgmo]," she said. "They just have the best style and make everything look so effortless. I learn a lot from talking to them or riding behind them."

Win or lose, you know Anderson is always going to come up smiling.

Not coincidentally, Horgmo and Sandbech describe Anderson's riding in similar terms.

"Jamie looks like she's just saving her run every time," Sandbech said. "She doesn't even look like she tries, it's just so easy for her. Her back tail on the rails is better than all the boys."

The hardest jump trick in Anderson's competition run has long been the Cab 7, which involves a switch frontside spin with two rotations and a switch landing. She first used it to win X Games gold six years ago -- an eternity in snowboarding. The fact that she has not upped the ante with the tricks she throws since then speaks to the disparity between her and the field.

"I haven't really done anything else because I've been doing really well without [a harder trick]," she said.

"When you've been as successful as Jamie's been," said Kaya Turski, a four-time XG gold medalist in Ski Slopestyle, "why change something that's so good?"

On the other hand, if Anderson had a coach, perhaps she would be more inclined to innovate.

"That's kind of why I've been looking into a coach," she said. "I feel like if I had someone pushing me, I'd probably do a lot more."

Anderson's goal is to maximize her potential without sapping the joy of snowboarding -- or, for that matter, living. Before this season started, with Sochi looming, U.S. Olympic halfpipe riders Elena Hight and Teter shared some advice with Anderson.

"I was thinking about not drinking, and not going out, and not connecting with any cute boys," Anderson said. "And they were like, 'Don't change your whole life for it. You still have to have fun and live for the moment.'

"Certainly I'm more inspired to take care of myself physically and emotionally, but I'm definitely down to go out and have a beer. And maybe go dance until 3 in the morning. It helps me not get too attached to the outcome."

Lest one mistake that for indifference, keep an eye out for the Cab 900 when Anderson drops in with Olympic gold on the line.

"I know I'm capable of so much more and I've known that for a long time," she said. "I'm almost ready."