Jamie Anderson rides ‘good vibes’ to gold

Jamie Anderson wears a string of wooden beads around her neck. “My mantra beads,” she explained. They’re from a friend who made them “with, like, sacred energy put into them.”

Anderson wears a large quartz crystal, too. “A power stone,” she calls it. And also a triangular moonstone. After her stellar performance Sunday in the women’s slopestyle competition, she has a new piece of neckware: an Olympic gold medal.

“Oh, my gosh, it’s mind-blowing,” she said.

Since she was a teen, Anderson has been one of the most successful slopestyle competitors on any mountain. She filled her trophy case with eight Winter X Games medals and found the podium in so many other big events. At 23, she’s the most dominant female rider the young discipline has seen, and here at the Sochi Games, her gold-medal run provided undeniable confirmation.

“You can come in as the best athlete with all these accolades and awards and medals behind you in the past,” said Mike Jankowski, head coach of the U.S. freeskiing and snowboarding teams, “but what matters are those 45 seconds from when you drop into the course and when you make the finish. That’s the most important time to cement your place and your legacy, and that’s what she was able to do here today.”

Anderson’s medal marked the third for the Americans in the Sochi Games and the second gold. It was also the first ever awarded in women’s slopestyle, a high-flying snowboarding competition featuring rails and big jumps that made its debut here. At 15, Anderson was once the youngest Winter X Games medalist, but now that her sport has reached the Olympic stage, she said she could sense the pressure building. How exactly does one deal with such a unique stress? Candles, yoga, meditation maybe?

“All of the above,” she explained at a news conference. “I was just talking about that. Last night, I was so nervous. I couldn’t even eat. I was trying to calm down. Put on some meditation music, burn some sage. Got the candles going. Just trying to do a little bit of yoga. . . . It was all about good vibration. Thankfully, I slept really good. I did some mantras. It worked out for me.”

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Sitting next to her on the dais, bronze medalist Jenny Jones couldn’t hide her laughter. The British rider was asked what she did the night before the competition to calm nerves. “Actually, last night I watched ‘Downton Abbey,’ ” Jones said.

More MTV than BBC, Anderson, a native of Lake Tahoe, Calif., said she rode the “good vibes,” believed in “the power of now,” harnessed “all the Cali love” and relied on her “spirit grandma” — an 80-something-year-old neighbor who made the trip to Russia.

As if Anderson's blond hair, new-age underpinning and laid-back ’tude weren’t enough, even the way she moves on the hill leaves no doubts.

“She’s a California girl,” Jankowski said. “She’s got that kind of surf style. She stays nice and low throughout all of her tricks.”

In Sunday’s slopestyle finals, Anderson had a smooth first run — her score of 80.75 good enough for the second-best score midway through the competition — but was far from perfect. The bar was quickly raised in the second round when Jones wowed the crowd and earned a score of 87.25 from the judges. Then Finland’s Enni Rukajarvi eventually topped the entire field with a 92.5.

Anderson could only wait. When it was finally her turn — the 10th of 12 riders — she stood in fifth place and needed a big run. She inched her snowboard closer to the start, took a deep breath and let it all play out in her mind. “I saw myself landing and the happiness with my family and all the love and support coming around,” she said.

With more freestyle events, the Sochi Olympics will look more like the Winter X Games than ever before. (Associated Press)

Pressures lifted. Stressors vanished. Coaches had seen it happen before. There’s a transformation of sorts that takes place, and Bill Enos, the U.S. slopestyle coach, always spots in the seconds before Anderson starts a run. “You can just see everything release from her body,” he said, “and she just goes.”

Suddenly, Anderson and her board were cutting through the snow, gliding along the rails and floating off the jumps. She reached the bottom and listened for the score. The judges gave her a 95.25, vaulting her into first.

Soon she was bouncing on the medalists’ podium, pumping her hands in the air. Not long after, Enos zombie-walked toward reporters at the base of the hill. “Am I dreaming? Are you people real?” he asked, pinching one. “Yes, oh, everyone here is real.”

Anderson’s place in slopestyle history was secure before Sunday’s gold-medal performance. She dominated so consistently at Winter X Games and the Winter Dew Tour. But this was something else entirely. Her sport always had its star; it finally had a fitting stage.

“It just feels out of control,” she said. “I can’t even explain what I’m processing right now.”

Twenty-four hours earlier, Sage Kotsenburg was a virtual unknown. He won gold in the men’s slopestyle event, and suddenly his face was on the front page of newspapers, and TV networks were eager to book him. Anderson is much more established in her sport, and her future won’t likely be the same. Though those who know her can't imagine that she’ll change much.

“Jamie’s such an amazing person, I don’t know if she even had to win a gold medal to be as awesome as she is,” Enos said. “But she went out and did it anyhow.”

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Rick Maese is a sports reporter for The Washington Post.
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Medals
Gold Silver Bronze Total
Russian Federation 13 11 9 33
United States of America 9 7 12 28
Norway 11 5 10 26
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