PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — Jamie Anderson felt inferior, and this was after she won a gold medal. She wanted to quit. The next snowboarding season, early in her reign as the first women’s slopestyle Olympic champion in the 2014 Sochi Games, the 5-foot-3 bundle of clashing emotions observed the rapid evolution of the sport — her sport, one that she helped revolutionize — and she sank into self-doubt.
She saw younger competitors “doing tricks that I wouldn’t even attempt,” executing flawless 900s and 1080s, elevating a game that she had owned. A pioneer by age 23, Anderson feared she soon would become a has-been.
“It was really discouraging,” said Anderson, now 27. “I almost felt like I just wanted to go hide under a rock. I was kind of freaking out. I’m like, ‘Oh, snap. I’m going to have to retire sooner than I thought.’ ”
Venture inside Anderson’s fascinating mind, and you will receive a most candid look at success. She wins. She worries. She’s known for her Zen-like temperament, but she breaks character often to freak out. All of this somehow makes her not erratic and weak but mentally tough and refreshingly self-aware. On a U.S. team full of teenage and early-20s snowboarders with awe-inspiring stunts, Anderson stays relevant by adapting and embracing all her quirks, even if sometimes she needs a while to find herself.
“So much ego is involved in our sport, and that’s one of the hardest things to balance, and it has been for a long time,” Anderson said.
For all her doubt, Anderson has found the proper balance again. She’s back at the Olympics, with a good chance to win another slopestyle gold. She also will have an opportunity to earn a medal in big air, which is making its Olympic debut. She’s not the aging athlete she feared. Her many methods to stay healthy and grounded — yoga, meditation, Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine, plant-based dieting, Pranayama breathing and nature appreciation — keep her young. But what matters most is that she didn’t succumb to anxiety. She continues to evolve with her sport.
“What helped me push forward was getting out of my ego and realizing, no matter what I do, there’s always going to be younger girls coming up, and that’s just the nature of life,” Anderson said. “Embrace it. And even if I’m not always going to be the best, at least I’m doing my personal best and am inspired by those girls. Changing my mind and not being so stuck in ‘I suck. They’re great.’ Just realizing everyone is doing their best and that’s all we can do is what helped me get to the right place.”
If Anderson captures gold in these Games, she would become the first female snowboarder to win multiple gold medals. But if she’s a legacy chaser, it’s impossible to tell. She’s more interested in chasing happiness, which can be a fickle aspiration at this level of competition.
“I think inside I have my own goals and plans, and I’m a big dreamer,” Anderson said. “The manifestation of the law of attraction is really powerful. But having so much competition this year, it’s been harder to be like, ‘I’m going to go win gold.’ I’ve just been trying to have the thought in my head to just perform my best and bless the rest.
“All I can do is focus on me. I have no control over everyone around me, and genuinely, I hope everyone does their best because it’s such a great stage to be on. It’s been fun. Today, I’m feeling good. Tomorrow, I might feel scared. Who knows?”
On Team USA, Anderson is the veteran of a snowboarding squad that includes Jessika Jenson, 26, who competed four years ago; and rookies Julia Marino, 20, and Hailey Langland, 17. The first-timers are listening to Anderson’s advice every night. Despite the age differences, there’s an easy camaraderie within the group, and Anderson assists the good chemistry by being a down-to-earth gold medalist.
“To be at the Olympics with these girls, especially Jamie who’s been here already, is special,” Marino said Tuesday afternoon. “Even last night, we had a chat. We were feeling stressed, and we talked to her about it. It’s just good to have your friends there to talk to and keep you grounded.”
In private, Anderson deals with her own nerves. Her confidence wavers. Earlier this week, she visited the Olympic snowboarding venue, Phoenix Snow Park, and admitted she was “pretty scared.” She rode powder on the side for five laps to get comfortable.
Anderson doesn’t come to these Games with a gold medalist’s sense of entitlement. Friends and family told her to show more swagger, but she shook her head and said, “You don’t know how I feel.”
“Sometimes, I feel really good and confident,” Anderson added. “At other times, I’m like, ‘I don’t know what to do with myself.’ That’s just everyone. Everyone is dealing with the yin and yang of life.”
Anderson handles it with flair. Before she competes, Anderson must find a tree to hug and admire. It’s a tradition that she says is overblown, but she’s still looking for a tree in PyeongChang. She also would like to explain that she’s not a good meditator because she doesn’t like to sit in place for a long period. So when she’s home in South Lake Tahoe, Calif., she will walk by a meadow and go through the meditation routine.
“I’ve come to find out I’m a meadow-tator,” Anderson said, laughing hard at her joke.
At 27, the young/old snowboarder will try to make history. Before competition, she will probably freak out, just as she did in Sochi. But she knows how to stave off fear and get focused.
“I’m trying to keep it light,” Anderson said. “But one day in four years is pretty dramatic.”
Now, if you will excuse the nervous champion, she has a tree to hug.
For more by Jerry Brewer, visit washingtonpost.com/brewer.
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