Austria’s Gasser holds off Iwabuchi, Anderson for X Games Big Air gold
Anna Gasser didn’t like her chances in Saturday’s women’s snowboard big air final at X Games Aspen because of a slight rule change the riders only found out about a week ago.
Like in the past, the 20-minute jam session combined the riders’ two best scores, but this year they were required to do one trick spinning in each direction, forcing many of them outside of their comfort zone.
“That was actually really hard for me,” Austria’s Gasser said. “With this change, I didn’t think my chances were that good anymore. But it also made me do a trick I’ve never done in competition.”
Gasser’s post-competition modesty was one thing, but her in-contest show was another. Behind a cab 1080 double cork and frontside 900 double, the 26-year-old Gasser held off Japanese teen phenom Reira Iwabuchi and American legend Jamie Anderson to win her first X Games Aspen gold medal.
Norway’s Silje Norendal was fourth (62) and New Zealand’s Christy Prior was fifth (41). California teen Hailey Langland, who won the inaugural women’s snowboard big air contest at X Games Aspen last year, did not compete after injuring herself Friday during slopestyle practice. Langland’s injury doesn’t seem serious and she was hanging around the base of the Aspen jumps during the contest.
Gasser previously had three X Games medals, including a 2017 slopestyle gold and big air bronze in Oslo. She won big air silver in Aspen a year ago.
Her gold Saturday came a day after the snow conditions led to her pulling out of the slopestyle competition, won by Anderson.
“I’m so happy, especially because I couldn’t ride slopestyle yesterday,” Gasser said.
Gasser’s two-run combined score of 86 was the unquestioned winner. Her run of 47 out of 50 early in the contest made it difficult on the other four riders. Iwabuchi and Anderson actually tied with 71 each, but Iwabuchi was awarded the silver — her first X Games medal — based off her best individual run of 44, while Anderson’s best was 38.
Anderson, who already is the most decorated women’s slopestyle athlete in X Games history, now has her first X Games medal in big air.
“The X Games was a great event to gauge what the heck is going on at the Olympics next week,” Anderson said. “Today was really fun. I was stoked I put my runs down. I know they weren’t exactly how I wanted them, but they are still in the works.”
Big air snowboarding will make its Olympic debut next month in Pyeongchang. Anderson will headline an American foursome that includes Langland, Connecticut’s Julia Marino and Idaho’s Jessika Rigby on the combined slopestyle/big air team. Marino was also scheduled to compete in Saturday’s X Games big air final, but pulled out due to illness.
As strong as that team is, everyone will likely be chasing Gasser for that Olympic big air gold. She is dominating the sport right now, her 2017 season even including an ESPY award from ESPN for Best Female Action Sports Athlete. She already had wins this season at World Cup big air events in Milan and Beijing.
Women’s snowboard slopestyle qualifying at the Olympics is scheduled for Feb. 11, only two days after the opening ceremony in South Korea. Finals are Feb. 12. The women’s snowboard big air finals are Feb. 23, two days before the closing ceremony.
“I’m just thankful to be a part of it,” Gasser said of big air’s emergence. “I think it’s a cool event. I think people are going to like to watch it because it’s really spectacular and a young, new sport. I was really excited when they announced it.”
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