SOCHI, Russia -- American Jamie Anderson entered the 2014 Winter Olympics as a favorite to win the gold medal in women's snowboard slopestyle, an event that was making its debut in Sochi.
On Sunday, Anderson proved why she is the face, and perhaps ambassador, of the sport with a fantastic second run of 95.25 to earn the gold before a packed and boisterous crowd at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park.
There have been reports that attendance has been lagging in Sochi, but the crowd that showed up for slopestyle was large and energized. Part of the reason may have had to do with the silver and bronze medalists. Enni Rukajarvi finished second with a strong 92.50 score, much to the delight of a large contigent of Finnish supporters.
She was followed by Jenny Jones of Great Britain (87.25), who received a roar from her home-nation fans witnessing Britain's first ever medal on snow. Jones narrowly edge Sina Candrian of Switzerland (87.0).
"It feels amazing. I cannot believe it, I just can't believe it," said a giggling Jones, who had the lead after the first run. The 33-year-old, who had worked as a maid in the French Alps, suffered a harsh concussion in December which made her inactive for several weeks.
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It was a triumphant debut for slopestyle, an event that involves executing challenging tricks while getting as much altitude as possible. The sport has gained traction after years of coverage at the Winter X Games, but received a great deal of credibility with its presence at the Winter Olympics. Much of the crowd was there with an interest in seeing the sport in person for the first time.
For Anderson, a Hitchcock blonde with a penchant for broad smiles and joyful outbursts, the event was about more that just her victory. In a display of solidarity, she was quick to hug her fellow competitors and demonstrated a great deal of humility in victory.
"To be here and represent my country, and just everything that has to do with the Olympics, is such an honor, and I'm so grateful right now," she told reporters.
The 23-year-old helped the U.S. sweep gold in the competition following Sage Kotsenburg winning performance in the men's event on Saturday. It took a particularly effective effort from Anderson to overcome Rukajarvi's second run and Jones's first run.
"Yeah, I did... uh... what did I do?" said Anderson, who managed to maintain her charming, affable demeanor despite persistent media questions about her feelings on winning the gold. "Nosepress to 50-50 back 180. Cab 180 butter to back 180. Cab 7 tail, "fuge" back-five front-seven."
(Yes, the charismatic Anderson incorporates "fuge" in breakdowns of her runs.)
The event, which took place in relatively comfortable 30-degree Fahrenheit conditions, was not without some tense moments. Sarka Pancochova, who dazzled in her first run with a leading score of 86.25, laid motionless for over a minute after taking a nasty spill. Spectators gasped as the 23-year-old failed to complete a full rotation, which led to a fall that would crack her helmet.
After an emergency crew attended to her, Pancochova was able to complete her run to the roar of the thousands in attendance. Pancochova would finish fifth, and was followed by American Karly Shorr (75.00).
Among other competitors of note, Ty Walker finished a respectable 14th. It was an encouraging result for the 16-year-old American, who is considered among the future stars of a sport that, judging by Sunday's support, likely has a strong future.