Olympic snowboarding competition opens up with slopestyle, and once the men wrap up their final on Saturday night (Sunday morning in South Korea), it will be time for the women to take the course.
The U.S., led by returning gold medalist Jamie Anderson, has the strongest team overall thanks to some new young talent, but there are a number of veteran riders from other countries in the mix for a gold medal as well.
Below are five women to watch in women’s slopestyle this week.
Country: USA | Age: 27
In 2014, Jamie Anderson was the clear-cut favorite in women’s slopestyle. She was the dominant rider in this event at the time, so it was no surprise that she left Sochi with the Olympic gold medal.
The competition is much stiffer this time around. There are quite a few riders – including both veterans and newbies – who have elevated their snowboarding in recent years and have now forced Anderson to do the same.
A few years ago, Anderson said that she had no desire to ever learn double corks – an off-axis spin with two flips commonly seen in the men’s competitions. But then her competitors started landing doubles and knocking her off the top of the podium.
That forced Anderson to step up her game, and she now has a double cork 900 in her arsenal just in time for the Olympics. She’ll again be one of the top favorites in slopestyle along with Anna Gasser.
Country: Austria | Age: 26
When breaking down the top favorites for gold, the discussion has to include both Jamie Anderson and Anna Gasser.
Thanks in part to her mastery of the cab double underflip, Gasser was close to dominant last season and established herself as the rider to beat in slopestyle. She has only competed in one slopestyle event so far this season but was coming off a minor injury and did not make the final.
Gasser has also turned into an elite big air competitor and is a threat for two gold medals in PyeongChang, starting with slopestyle this week and then big air later this month.
She has landed multiple variations of double corks and could potentially try to bring a double cork 1080 into her slopestyle run.
Gasser finished 10th in her Olympic debut four years ago.
Country: USA | Age: 20
Hailing from Westport, Connecticut, Julia Marino was one of last season’s breakout riders. She won a slopestyle gold medal in her X Games debut last year and was one of the only women landing the cab double underflip with regularity.
Marino was second in slopestyle at this year’s X Games, though several of her top challengers did not compete and only five women total took part in the contest.
This will be her Olympic debut.
Country: USA | Age: 17
Southern California native Hailey Langland is a representative of the new generation of up-and-coming snowboarders. She gets high praise from her peers because of her style, and she can also stomp some big tricks.
Langland landed a double cork 1080 at an X Games big air event last year but has not done the trick since then and has never done it in a slopestyle contest.
Like Marino, Langland is a first-time Olympian for the U.S.
Country: Canada | Age: 30
Spencer O’Brien has a rivalry with Jamie Anderson that goes back at least 10 years. It’s a very friendly rivalry though – like most of the women in the field, they’re actually great friends. They just happen to be battling each other for podium spots when they compete.
That duel was rekindled in December when O’Brien won a slopestyle contest at Breckenridge, topping Anderson and the rest of the field. In the process, it solidified her as a contender for Olympic gold.
O’Brien is in a much better place than she was when she competed in Sochi four years ago. In the lead-up to those Olympics, she had been battling mysterious joint pain, which was eventually diagnosed as early onset rheumatoid arthritis. She says that she now has the condition under control through medication.
In her Olympic debut four years ago, O’Brien finished 12th.
What Will It Take to Win?
Women’s snowboarding has been progressing at a blistering pace lately. Double corks, which even Jamie Anderson once thought were unachievable, are now the gold standard for a slopestyle run.
Doubles come in a variety of forms, but at the most basic level, there are double cork 1080s, double cork 900s and double underflips. It seems likely that riders will need to land at least one double in their run to have a shot at gold.
It’s not all about the doubles though. In a slight scoring change this year, 60% of each rider’s score will be based on the individual tricks they do on each of the course’s six sections. (The remaining 40% of their score is overall impression.) All six sections are weighted equally (10% of the rider’s total score), meaning that executing technical tricks on the course’s rail sections are just as important as landing a big double cork on one of the jumps.
How to Watch
NBCOlympics.com will be streaming every round of every competition live online. Links to each stream are below.
Qualifying: Saturday, Feb. 10, 11:30 p.m. ET
Final: Sunday, Feb. 11, 8:00 p.m. ET