Words: T. Bird
Photos: Ryan “Huggy” Hughes
Sage Kotsenburg made history yesterday in the men's slopestyle here in Sochi and in the process, the FIS judges who we snowboarders have been so harshly critical of in the past sent a message. Style matters, and at least here in Sochi, flat spins are scoring higher than triple corks at the moment (side note: a looming question on the hill today is whether or not the judges' newfound ideology will be applied to men's halfpipe two nights from now which would certainly affect the outcome and possibly change competitive pipe riding forever, but I'll get to that when the time comes). That's by no means to say that Mark McMorris, Maxence Parrot, and Stale Sandbech's runs weren't stylish, because they certainly were, but what I took away from the whole ordeal was that here, at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, unlike other major televised contests that I've witnessed in the past, the judges want to see variety, and personally, I give the them a tip of my cap for their decision (albeit with a little bit of skepticism). What can I say? Old habits die hard.
Ever since Terje Haakonsen boycotted the Nagano Games in 1998, when snowboarding made its international debut on the world's stage, we've complained relentlessly about skiers being our governing body, but no one has acted on it since Haakon himself. Well, yesterday–as non-intentional as it may have been–Sage did, and in the process, the young American from Park City, Utah set a precedent here at the Winter Games and that precedent very well might have an outcome in the women's field.
In the past few years, the girls have stepped up to the doublecork, and I couldn't help but find myself wondering if the judging standard that's been set will hold over in the women's field. Anna Gasser has a legitimate double underflip and riders like Aimee Fuller and Shelly Gotlieb have stomped double backies in the past. The question going into women's semis and finals was, would the judges score the same for the women as they did for the men? In other words, would a frontside ten best a Cab doublecork. Only time would tell, and the girls strapped in and became the first female slopestyle Winter Olympians under scattered skies.
Semis was first, and it was Jenny Jones, Rebecca "Possum" Torr, Stefi Luxton, Sina Candrian, Aimee Fuller, Shelly Gotlieb, Sarka Pancochova, Jenna Blasman, Jessika Jenson, Silje Norendal, Cheryl Maas, and Ty Walker battling it out for one of the four spots in the finals, however, notable names missing from the roster due to injury included Kjersti Buass, Merika Enne, and Christy Prior. The riders who already qualified for the afternoon's finals were Isabel Derungs, Torah Bright, Spencer O'Brien, Enni Rukajärvi, Anna Gasser, Jamie Anderson, Elena Koenz, and Karly Shorr, as the US's Ty Walker pointed it at the first feature at 10:30 MSK.
Ty put down a first run score of 66 that held her in the first place position, that is, until Sina Candrian came in with an 84.25, Sarka Pancochova scored a 90.50, and Jenny Jones run up an 82.25, and fellow American Jessika Jenson took the fourth place spot from her with a 72. Those were the top four after run one, but that would all change after Silje Norendal put down a second run score of 78.75 to round out the top four who would lock in a finals spot. The riding in semifinals was incredible, and while Aimee Fuller was the only female rider in the field to attempt a double backflip (she unfortunately couldn't put it down), the finals were yet to come and that would change real quick.
Overall, the judges seemed to score fairly, as Sarka's first place qualifying run that consisted of a frontside five, a switch backside 180, and a backside 180 would've placed her in the top three of any major snowboard slopestyle competition in the world, and the same could be said for Sina, Jenny, and Silje. Though we were yet to see what weight the judges would balance between doublecorks/flips and flat spins, we would soon find out in the finals as the twelve best female slopestyle riders prepared for the biggest two runs of their careers.
Finals kicked off at 1:10 MSK and the girls came to play. On the world's biggest stage they put on the best slopestyle event said world has ever seen. Sarka Pancochova put down a first run score of 86.25 to take an early lead, followed closely by Sina Candrian and Jenny Jones. Torah Bright shocked all naysayers by tossing a Cab 9 on the first jump of her run but bobbled in the landing a bit. However, she legitimized her triple threat status at the Games, and although she didn't finish in the top three here in Sochi, the real clinic she'll put on will be in two days in the pipe. Jamie Anderson's first run score of 80.75 was good enough to put her in second but everyone knew coming into these Winter Games that this event was Jamie's to lose, and any time you look up at the scoreboard and see the most dominant women's slope rider in history in second it's a bit of a shock. After the first runs were over, it was Sarka in first, Jamie in second, and Sina Candrian in third place.
The order began to rapidly switch in the second runs. Jenny Jones dropped in and put down a run that scored her an 87.25, making her the leader and bumping Sarka and Jamie down into second and third. The very next rider to drop in was Sina Candrian and she capped off her run by becoming the first woman to ever land a frontside 1080 in competition. The crowd went nuts and the media began to chatter about Sina's run and the fact that Jamie was out of podium placing at the moment. The pressure was on. Unfortunately, and to the surprise of many, Canada's Spencer O'Brien couldn't put down a run and would not be in medal contention. Same went for Torah, but she was all smiles. Sarka dropped a few riders later but on the second hit she went down hard, breaking her helmet in half and seemingly knocking herself out cold. After a minute or two though, she got up and rode down on her own accord. It's official. Sarka is a badass, and as she sat at the bottom and watched the next rider drop, it became clear that she wouldn't medal today. It was Enni Rukajärvi who put down a second run score of 92.5 and became the new leader of the contest as Jenny Jones bumped down to second and Sina Candrian fell to third.
But then, Jamie Anderson dropped. Under pressure, Jamie put together a run that consisted of a gap to boardslide, a 50-50 backside 180, a Cab seven on the first jump, a switch backside five on the second, and a massive frontside seven on the last jump, and that garnered her a score of 95.25. Austrian Anna Gasser, a rider who is known to have a double underflip under her belt, was the last rider to drop in and take Jamie out, but alas, she went down before she could try her signature trick and Jamie Anderson was your women's slopestyle winner here in Sochi.
It's been full of ups, downs, and surprises in two short days, and it's sure to continue in the following days with men's and women;s pipe, so be sure to check back to snowboardermag.com to be in the know with what's going down here in Russia. Congratulations to all the ladies who took home a medal today.
1. Jamie Anderson, USA: 95.25
2. Enni Rukajärvi, FIN: 92.50
3. Jenny Jones, GBR: 87.25