Jasey-Jay Anderson likes adversity. The highly decorated snowboarder from Mont-Tremblant, Que., thrives on it. So he couldn’t have picked a better day to hurl himself down Cypress Mountain for the parallel giant slalom. The venue that VANOC officials have referred to as their “special child” started throwing a tantrum the day before, during the women’s event, and it was still raging by the time the men showed up for their turn Saturday. Icy rain came from all directions, while a thick blanket of fog descended on the 530-m long course. Most athletes had brought several jackets and pairs of goggles with them to change into, but it didn’t seem to matter. As American snowboarder Chris Klug quipped, “I feel like I’m going salmon fishing more than snowboarding out here.” This wasn’t just a competition between 30 snowboarders from North America, Europe and Japan, but a battle between the boarders and Mother Nature herself.
Whomever and whatever the adversary, Anderson emerged the clear winner. After taking part in three previous Olympic Games without reaching the podium, he rode the mountain to a gold before a diehard crowd of cheering supporters on home snow—make that slush. It was a sweet victory after a tough day of racing. “I love being in that situation where I have to rise above the challenge, dig as deep as I can and see what’s there,” he said after his race, his snowboard wrapped in a Canadian flag. “There’s no better feeling than challenges like today. You’re swimming all day, you can’t see anything, you just gotta rise above all that and do the best you can.”
Anderson definitely had to dig deep. He’d started the day on shaky ground. After his first qualifying run he was way down in 20th place. But he quickly recovered and earned a place among the 16 athletes who advanced through to the main competition. So too did fellow Canadians Michael Lambert and Matthew Morison. Canada’s whole snowboard team was expected to do well. But when Lambert and Morison were knocked out in the early heats, suddenly all of Canada’s hopes came down to Anderson, a 34-year-old father of two and blueberry farmer who goes by the nickname Old Man.
In the parallel giant slalom event, each heat consists of two boarders racing down the course against each other. After the first race the losing athlete is subjected to a time penalty at the start of the second race. Whoever wins that race then moves on to the next round.
After his stuttering start, Anderson moved easily through the quarter- and semifinals. Then, in his first race for the gold medal, Anderson struggled and came in three-quarters of a second behind Benjamin Karl of Austria. European athletes have dominated snowboarding at the Olympics for years, and many were wondering whether the Canadian could finally push his way to the top. After Karl leapt from the starting gate, Anderson had to wait 0.76 seconds—an eternity in the sport—before he could give chase. He trailed throughout the first half of the race, but then began to make up ground. With just two gates left, Anderson blasted past the Austrian to reach the finish line, with just 0.35 seconds to spare.
One reason there’d been so much expectation about the trio of Canadian snowboarders was because of unique high-tech changes that the Canadian squad had made to their boards. Thanks to funding from Own the Podium’s Top Secret Program, the boards were fitted with super-low-friction bases designed to give more speed on wet snow. At the same time, the boards were given a revolutionary raised composite plate for bindings, designed with guidance from Anderson himself. The Canadians kept the details secret throughout the World Cup season by covering the binding with duct tape and MACtac. Though Canadian boarder Lambert didn’t make it into the quarter-finals, he said the new boards worked perfectly. “It wasn’t my board that broke today, it was me, on one turn, that ended my day today,” he said. “Own the Podium is just the greatest gift athletes have ever had. It’s contributed to our success.”
But there was clearly more to Anderson’s victory than just his board. In addition to his equipment, he also credited the support of his sponsors, friends and family. Anderson had originally planned to retire from snowboarding by now. But he put that decision on hold so he could race one more time in Vancouver. “It’s amazing the amount of energy I sucked out of people around me,” he said. “It’s just nice to be able to give something back, hopefully a little bit of pride and a lot of joy.”
The crowd showed both of those things in wild abundance. Never mind that at times they could hardly see what was taking place on the course, let alone on the giant video screen. When Anderson stepped onto the podium, he may only have appeared as a blurry figure through the fog and the rain, but the crowd went wild anyway, chanting his name—“Jay-See! Jay-See!”