PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (AP) — Anna Gasser edged two-time gold medalist Jamie Anderson in a thrilling final to earn gold in the Olympic debut of women’s Big Air snowboarding.
Gasser, the reigning world champion, stomped the last of her three jumps, a double cork 1080 that saw the Austrian flip twice while spinning three times. Her score of 96 was the highest of the day and gave her a total of 185.00.
Anderson, who captured her second Olympic gold in women’s slopestyle last week, led going into the final round but sat down while trying to land her last jump. Gasser took full advantage. The 26-year-old raised her arms in triumph and embraced Anderson after the score flashed.
Zoi Sadowski Synnott grabbed the bronze to give New Zealand its first Winter Olympic medal in 26 years.
The victory was vindication of sorts for Gasser, who openly questioned the decision to hold the slopestyle competition at windy Phoenix Snow Park on the first weekend of the Pyeongchang Games. Anderson survived the blustery conditions to claim gold on a day when only nine of the 50 runs were completed cleanly.
Officials scrambled to make sure it wouldn’t happen again in Big Air. They bumped the finals up from Friday to Thursday due to concerns over another possible windstorm and Anderson and Gasser responded by putting on a compelling duel at sun-splashed and mostly calm Alpensia Ski Jump Centre.
Big Air requires riders to sprint down a 50-meter ramp before vaulting high into the South Korean sky, flipping and twisting their way to the landing ramp, traveling as much as 100 feet while flying end-over-end. All riders get three attempts, with the two highest scores counting toward their total.
Anderson sent a message with her first jump, a near flawless frontside 1080. The judges rewarded her with a 90. She backed it up with an 87.25 and led Gasser by 2.75 going into the third round. Anderson, however, couldn’t add to her lead after a sloppy landing, giving Gasser one last shot.
Gasser hardly seemed overcome by the pressure. She soared into the void, grabbing her board as she somersaulted her way to the bottom. Her landing was just about perfect and she seemed to know she’d come through well before the scoreboard confirmed it.
Sadowski Synott was a distant third with a total of 157.50, though it hardly mattered. Her bronze was the first Winter Olympic medal of any variety by a New Zealand athlete since Annelise Coberger earned silver in slalom at the Albertville Games in 1992.