Anna Gasser, you BEAST! - Photo: Sam Mellish
Night shift: Tom Copsey
The first ever Olympic Big Air bling was dished out in the Alpensia Stadium today, with Anna Gasser coping with intense pressure from Jamie Anderson to take gold in the women's Big Air finals... In one word: Historic.
Keen to avoid ruining a women's snowboarding competition for the second time in two weeks, a forecast of high winds for Friday had the Olympic organisers hastily push the women's Big Air finals forward a day, meaning it came a mere 24 hours after yesterday's insane men's qualification.
The contrast between genders isn't as stark as was just a couple of years ago, such is the progression of the women's kicker riding, and with a qualification round replete with Cab doubles, Cab- and back 9s, front 10s and even switch front 10 doubles the stage was set for undoubtedly the heaviest Big Air contest in women's snowboarding history.
If you'd asked us a couple of weeks ago we'd probably have said that the podium would be made up of doublers. However, after the judges rewarded the full-send 900s of Zoi Sadowski Synott, Reiria Iwabuchi and Yuka Fujimoto in the qualis (switch backside, Cab and backside respectively) over half-Cab double backies or Cab double corks that weren't sent deep - rightly, in our minds - then we were not so sure.
"But any finals is a pressure cooker environment; all the more so when the big fat guy-in-the-sky-hungry lenses of the world's media are trained on you"
What we were more certain of is that - no pressure now - these finals were Anna Gasser's to lose... on paper at least. If she was able to put down the tricks that we know she's got in her locker, then chances are the other girls would be fighting for silver.
Unlike the qualifiers, the riders got three runs in these finals, with the combined score of the best two counting. To make things more interesting, these two best scoring runs have to be spun in different directions, and when you know Gasser has not only that switch front double 10 she scored 98 points with the other day, but also a back 10 double (with Mute or Melon grab), then there was nothing we've seen from the other ladies to suggest they could top that.
But any finals is a pressure cooker environment; all the more so when the big fat guy-in-the-sky-hungry lenses of the world's media are trained on you. Who would cope with this factor best was also going to play a major role in where the bling went, and what colour it would be.
With this in mind, we sat back to witness women's kicker riding enter a new era of madness...
We were keen to see how the girls would approach the final. Would some go all-in from the off? Would there be a majority wanting to make sure they got a score on the board before dialling up the sendometer? Ordinarily you might think putting down a safety trick as a backup would be a smart thing to do, but from the qualifications it was clear that this wasn't going to be an ordinary final. Safety trick backups just weren't going to cut it if you were serious about the podium spots.
"The veteran American went all in from the off, launching a huge front 10 with a Mute grab that was held for an age"
It turned out, for the most part, the girls were keen to settle their nerves for their first swing at the piñata. Silje Norendal put her Cab 9 down, as did the tiny Reira Iwabuchi, while Yuka Fujimoto stomped another back 9 Mute/Indy combo. 16-year old Zoi Sadowski Synnott opened with her monster double backie - again, no real boundary pushing yet - and a couple of girls seemed to feel the pressure and fell, but one rider who didn't get the run 1 memo was Jamie Anderson. The veteran American went all in from the off, launching a huge front 10 with a Mute grab that was held for an age and that was smoother than the soles of James Brown's shoes. 90 points was her reward.
Over to you, Anna. Gasser, however, read from the script and though her Cab double 9 was sent pretty deep, had a longer grab than usual and was stomped it was clear she was playing the long game. 85.5 points was the result; advantage Anderson.
But with three runs this time round, there was still all to play for.
The second run was when things really started popping, but with many riders clearly headed into uncharted waters - at least as far as a contest is concerned - there were few runs put down clean. Julia Marino, after a run 1 overcook, looked to step up to a Cab double 10. She got it, but the landing was scruffy. Slopestyle silver medallist Laurie Blouin, nursing a bit of a tweak from her first jump, again went huge with a super slow Cab double 9, but again couldn't hold on. The Japanese, too, were pushing their limits now - Reira going for a back 10 double Mute but wheelieing the landing, as did Miyabi Onitsuka, while Yuka went for a front double 9 that had hearts in mouths as she opened up early on and sailed sideways through the sky.
It wasn't all sketching in run 2, though. Zoi, as she'd done in qualification, unleashed a monster of a switch back 9 - camera guy almost lost her in the live shot - to bag 92 points (the second highest individual run score of the day) and a shot at the podium. After Sina Candrian overcooked her first front 10 attempt she got it at the second bite and had something to build on, while Anderson piled more pressure on Gasser by stomping a huge, corked, Cab double 9. 87.25 points, two good scores on the board... how do you cope with pressure, Anna?
Her answer? Back double 10 Melon. While she held it long and had solid style, she certainly could have sent it deeper - landing around the first blue line - and while the score of 89 points was high, it wasn't enough to overtake Jamie's combined scores.
With our bingo cards ready for "It all. Comes down. To this." commentary, it was time for the third and final run. By now it was clear that this was a two horse race for gold, and though Jamie had landed the two hits we'd seen her do before, Anna had yet to have a pop at her switch front double 10 that had bagged her 98 points in the qualifiers. We weren't sure if Anderson had anything left in her locker, but then again, Gasser would need to cleanly stomp her trick once more or the upset would be on.
"By now it was clear that this was a two horse race for gold"
With the pressure on most girls understandably went for broke, and while a lot weren't able to put it down there were some who moved up the rankings - Spencer O'Brien getting her back 7 Melon a bit cleaner, Candrian putting down a switch back 9 - and before we knew it it was Anderson's last shot to improve her score. Gasser was to drop last.
- Anna Gasser - JNS / 89.00 / 96.00 // 185.00
- Jamie Anderson - 90.00 / 87.25 / JNS // 177.25
- Zoi Sadowski-Synnott - 65.50 / 92.00 / JNS // 157.50
- Reira Iwabuchi - 79.75 / 67.75 / JNS // 147.50
- Sina Candrian - JNS / 76.25 / 64.00 // 140.25
- Silje Norendal - 70.50 / 61.00 / JNS // 131.50
- Yuka Fujimori - 82.25 / 40.50 / JNS // 122.75
- Miyabi Onitsuka - 78.75 / JNS / 40.25 // 119.00
- Spencer O'Brien - 51.25 / JNS / 62.00 // 113.25
- Julia Marino - JNS / 74.50 / 18.75 // 93.25
- Jessika Jenson - JNS / 21.50 / 19.00 // 40.50
- Laurie Blouin - JNS / 39.25 / DNS // 39.25
We said we didn't think she had anything left to pull out, but damn she made a good fist of it. The American went full send, launching an enormous Cab double 10 but exploded on impact. Fair play, Jamie. She left it all on the hill there. Once more the question was asked: How do you like pressure, Anna?
After a couple more 'close but no cigar' moments - the promising Zoi having seen her outside chance of gold vanish after valiantly trying a front 10 double but coming unstuck - we reached our final rider and final run of the day. Gasser dropped in and sent her switch front double 10 into the history books. Big, stomped clean, and after a bit of a nervy wait, rewarded with 96 points. Combined with her score for the back 10 double it leapfrogged her over Jamie Anderson and meant the name Anna Gasser will be known forever more as snowboarding's first ever Olympic Big Air Gold medallist. It finished Anna first, Jamie second, and the promising up-and-comer Zoi (expect to see this Kiwi on more podiums in the future) in bronze.
Moreover, props to all the girls involved in this final. The level was by far the highest we've ever seen in a women's Big Air, and hopefully this goes some way to both banish the flatulent memory of the women's slopestyle, and mark the dawn of a new era of women's contest kicker riding. The fact that a bunch of the girls were still teenagers means chances are things will only get more bonkers moving forwards. Respect!
1. Anna GASSER - JNS / 89.00 / 96.00 // 185.00
2. Jamie ANDERSON - 90.00 / 87.25 / JNS // 177.25
3. Zoi SADOWSKI SYNNOTT - 65.50 / 92.00 / JNS // 157.50
4. Reira IWABUCHI - 79.75 / 67.75 / JNS // 147.50
5. Sina CANDRIAN - JNS / 76.25 / 64.00 // 140.25
6. Silje NORENDAL - 70.50 / 61.00 / JNS // 131.50
7. Yuka FUJIMORI - 82.25 / 40.50 / JNS // 122.75
8. Miyabi ONITSUKA - 78.75 / JNS / 40.25 // 119.00
9. Spencer O'BRIEN - 51.25 / JNS / 62.00 // 113.25
10. Julia MARINO - JNS / 74.50 / 18.75 // 93.25
11. Jessika JENSON - JNS / 21.50 / 19.00 // 40.50
12. Laurie BLOUIN - JNS / 39.25 / DNS // 39.25
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