ZHANGJIAKOU, China – Highs and lows but excited to be riding well.
The trio of American women snowboarders who qualified for the finals in the slopestyle event at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics spoke to reporters Saturday about the wind, fake snow and other challenging conditions.
“The coldness makes it harder. It zaps the energy right out of you,” said Jamie Anderson, 31, a two-time and the defending Olympic gold medalist in the sport. She is also the most decorated woman in X Games history, with 21 medals.
“The man-made snow is pretty good, I’m impressed that they were able to do it, but damm it’s not that enjoyable to ride on … It’s cold, it’s hard to keep your core temperature up, and then doing trick feels more intimidating,” Anderson said.
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On the Winter Olympic Games’ opening day, 30 snowboarders navigated the various obstacles including rails, jumps and other terrain park features here in Zhangjiakou, a popular Chinese ski destination about 100 miles northwest of Beijing.
Anderson qualified in the No. 5 spot, with a score of 74.35.
“I felt really pissed after my last run. Such is life, highs and lows,” she said.
She’ll compete in the slopestyle final on Sunday alongside fellow Americans Julia Marino and Hailey Langland. West Bend, Wisconsin’s Courtney Rummel did not qualify.
Riders do two runs, with their highest score counting to qualify. The top 12 make the final.
At the bottom of the slope where Anderson spoke to USA TODAY and other assembled media, a reporter’s smartphone clocked 13-mph winds, but higher up on the mountain where the bulk of the course is, it appeared a lot windier. Tufts of blowing snow could be observed and several wind socks were completely filled and rippling.
At noon on a day of dazzling sunshine, the temperature was minus 5 degrees Fahrenheit. Various weather apps indicated that with the wind it felt like minus 12.
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All three Americans were feeling the pressure.
“On the first jump my heart was just beating faster and faster with every passing minute. It’s hard to keep yourself calm while watching all these other girls land runs,” said Hailey Langland, 21, who qualified in ninth place, scoring a 68.71.
At the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, she finished in sixth.
“I was kind of flip-flopping between making my run not as hard … maybe not doing specific rail tricks. But I think everything happens for a reason. The conditions were pretty gnarly, so I’m happy to be walking away in one piece,” Langland said.
Langland said that gusts of wind on the course not only came straight down the hill, they swirled in between her jumps, and when she did rail tricks – sliding her board down a rail of a small tower-like house – the wind turned and came directly up the hill.
“That can have some really bad consequences. It’s the luck of the draw.”
Langland has had shoulder surgeries as a result of falls. She said she was keeping warm by using toe-and-hand warmers, small packets of chemically-induced heat. They can be found in the socks and pockets of many athletes, coaches and even reporters.
“They are life-changing,” Langland gushed.
Marino, 24, finished sixth with a score of 71.78 after falling in her first run.
“It was a lot of pressure to put down a (good) run (the second time),” she said.
“I feel a little more relief now that I’ve made it through. It’s not easy up there. You’re standing up there for a really long time and things go in your head and you have to stay balanced. That’s almost the hardest part of these competitions.”
One rider who appeared to be at ease was New Zealander Zoi Sadowski Synnott, 20.
“The course is super-slick,” she said while talking about the blustery conditions.
But Synnott cruised into the finals in first place with a score of 86.75.
If Synnott wins on Sunday she would become the first snowboarder to add an Olympic Games gold to a world and X Games title in less than a year.
“I’ve got a bit more in the tank for tomorrow,” she added.