Red Gerard with medal
Red Gerard, Photo by Marianna Massey / Getty Images

I saw him flipping through the air on the big screen at USA House to win gold for USA in the men’s slopestyle snowboarding contest on Sunday, February 11. Then I saw him again 13 days later (this morning), competing in the inaugural Olympic men’s Big Air snowboarding competition.

And on the train ride home, I saw him again on a clip from Jimmy Kimmel Show, wearing his gold medal.

Huh?

Red Gerard is a 17-year-old snowboarding phenom, but can he defy the laws of physics and be in two geographies at the same time? No, but he has not stopped moving since he stepped off the medal podium last week.

According to this Washington Post article, Gerard and his agent saw this 10-day gap between events as an opportunity to hit the US talk show circuit during the Olympics. He flew 13 hours to Los Angeles and spent time with Kimmel on his show, with Ryan Seacrest and Kelly Ripa on CBS This Morning, and with People Magazine. After three days in LA, he got back on a plane to head back to South Korea.

 

And if we learned anything from the interview on the Jimmy Kimmel Show, Red Gerard is a poster child for snowboarding culture: nonchalant cool, humble, and eager for fun. The night before his gold-medal run in the slope style competition, he watched Brooklyn Nine-Nine in his room, overslept and proceeded to slay the slope.

Kimmel seemed surprised, saying “You were relaxed.” Gerard replied,

“Yeah, pretty relaxed. I’m pretty good with nerves before a contest. I try to treat it like any other day.”

For a high school kid, Gerard looks amazingly comfortable on the big stage. He took Kimmel’s praise and kidding with aplomb.

JK: This is unbelievable. You’re 17 years old. You got many, many years ahead of you….of disappointment by the way. It’s not going to be as good as this.

RG: (without missing a beat) I know I’m peaking here (he said with his right hand over his head). After this it’s going to be steady downward.

I doubt it. The sky’s the limit for this kid.

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Ester Ledecka on skis

She’s pulled off the upset of the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics. Ester Ledecká, a world champion parallel snowboarder jumped into the Super-G alpine event with little aspirations of winning. She just wanted to have a great run.

Ledecká did, and to the surprise of everyone, the Czech snowboarder, ranked 43rd in the world in the Super-G, won the gold medal. How did she do it? In a rush to explain, there was very little expert commentary. The assumption was that snowboarding and skiing are very different – a lot was made about how Ledecká was the first person ever to appear in two different Olympic events in the same Olympics, and that the skills for both were quite different.

And yet, according to ski and snowboarding coaches I talked with, that is not necessarily the case.

Jon Casson, the director of sport education for U. S. Ski and Snowboard Association (USSA), was in PyeongChang to cheer on the numerous Olympians he has coached, thought that skiing and snowboarding, on the whole, are quite similar.

My personal opinion is that I don’t think they are truly as dissimilar as the experts make it out to be.  In the end, it’s about pointing your equipment downhill and going as fast as you can. You stand on the equipment and you move your body.  Those movements put pressure on the ski or board and make it do something.  In this case, it’s maintaining as flat a base as possible and taking as direct a line down the hill as possible.  As the most dominant athlete in her snowboarding discipline, she understands this innately and can make her equipment do those things. 

In other words, if you say you’re super at skiing, and you feel you need to prioritize your training, you will only focus on your skiing skills. But someone like Ledecká comes along and shows that under the right conditions, your skills in one sport are transferable in others. This is when cetain other skills can make a difference.

Jon Casson
United States Ski and Snowboard Association (USSA) Sport Education Director Jon Casson leads a coaching class at Copper Mountain.

According to wax technician extraordinaire Andy Buckley, who was also in PyeongChang, Ledecká had a skill above and beyond the other skiers. Buckley explained that in Super-G alpine skiing, racers do not get to do trial runs. Once the course is set, the skiers are given ample time to examine the course, but they can’t ski it until the competition. What Buckley said is that Ledecká had superior capability to “read the terrain, find the right lines, know where to go high or low on a gate.” a skill she picked up from both skiing and snowboarding.

And as Casson added, “Ester not only has the athleticism, she has the confidence to go fast or go big, and that transferred to skiing.”

Ester Ledecka on snowboard
Czech Republic’s Ester Ledecka wins gold in the women’s parallel slalom snowboarding at the World Championships in Spain.

So how did Ledecká seemingly come out of nowhere to win the Super-G?

  • She had mastered the movements of a snowboard, and how to manipulate it with her body, arms, legs and feet in perfect harmony to the snow-covered ground, and more importantly, she was certain in her belief that these skills transferred directly to skiing. And let’s not forget, she was indeed a skier, someone who came to PyeongChang with an intent to compete in both disciplines.
  • Ledecká was an expert at reading the terrain, a highly critical skill for a race that does not allow competitors to have trial runs, and thus feel and know the course in advance. She read it, kept it in her head to visualize, and executed.
  • And she was confident, with nothing to lose. She was in PyeongChang for the parallel snowboarding race, so why not go for broke on Super-G?

For Ledecká, the conditions were the perfect storm. And that storm begs a name.

Let’s call it Hurricane Ester.

Chloe Kim_second run score

It was one of the most anticipated Olympic debuts. And Chloe Kim did not disappoint.

On an awesomely sunny day at Phoenix Snow Park, the massive halfpipe reflected a blinding white as we got ready for the Ladies Halfpipe qualifier. Twenty-four competitors were gunning to make the top twelve and the finals the next day, but there was no doubt about Kim qualifying.

Chloe Kim in her first run
Chloe Kim in her first ride.

Kim was third to ride in the first round, and off the bat established a score of 91.50. Liu Jiayu of China, who started off her halfpipe rides with significant altitude, came relatively close with an 87.75, but nobody else really challenged. With nobody else in the 90s, Kim decided to up the ante, and scored a 95.50 in her second run.

The child of Korean parents, Kim is popular both in the US (the second coming of Shaun White), and in South Korea. So the pressure of her first Olympic ride may weighed somewhat on her shoulders. But after her successful first ride, she sent out a tweet.

“Could be down for some ice cream rn”

The kid from California had to be kidding because it was freezing cold. But one thing you could say – she was relaxed.

Who’s going to beat her?

The only person who could do that is Chloe Kim.

Chloe Kim_second run
Chloe Kim in her second ride.

NOTE: As it turned out, Kim’s third ride in the finals topped her first-place score, so Chloe Kim indeed bested herself, and claimed the much-anticipated gold medal in the Ladies Halfpipe.

Shaun White might be back to the Olympics. But Ayumu Hirano has arrived.

The 19-year-old from Niigata, Japan, Hirano slam-dunked his ninth and final round to win gold in the superpipe event at the Winter X Games in Aspen Colorado, on January 28, 2018.

Hirano had taken the lead on another favorite, Australian Scotty James in his third round run where he scored a very high 96.66. He held the lead until his ninth and final run, where it was Hirano’s to win or lose. And based on the reaction of the two ESPN announces, Hirano won emphatically, with an amazing string of 1440’s, which I presume means four 360s, also known as 14s.

Brandon: Have you ever seen a run like that in a pipe final Craig McMorris?

Craig: No because it’s never been done anywhere on earth. How are you going to out-do yourself, Ayumu Hirano! Look at this! Jump man. Jump man. Jump man. I’m speechless.

Brandon: I need you to say something, Craig.

Craig: Ayumu Hirano. Front 14 double. Cap 14 double. Front 12 double. Back 12 double. And a backside air right off the top that’ll just drop your jaw. What planet are you from? Not earth, Brandon. Not earth.

Brandon: That’s the first time we’ve ever seen back to back 14s ever. Period. Exclamation point.

Hirano won the silver medal at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, falling to Iouri (iPod) Podladtchikov of Switzerland. But with his triumph at the X Games, expectations for Hirano gold In PyeongChang are now sky high.

Ayumu Hirano
Ayumu Hirano
Chloe Kim
Chloe Kim

Someone in Seoul recently wrote to me that many South Koreans are not so excited in the Winter Games to be held in their home country because there are no Korean superstars like Yuna Kim at these Games. I’m sure that will change if it hasn’t already.

Having said that, one of the biggest young talents coming to PyeongChang is a first-generation Korean. She will, however, be competing for the US. Her name is Chloe Kim. She is one of the best snowboarders in the world, becoming the youngest gold medalist at the Winter X Games at the age of 14. A year later she became the first person under 16 to win three gold medals, as well as the first woman to complete back-to-back 1080 spins in a competition, the only person other than the legendary snowboarder and teammate, Shaun White, to do so.Kim began snowboarding at 4

Born in California to Korean-born parents, Kim began snowboarding at 4. According to this SI article, she moved to Switzerland, where her parents met, for a couple of years of elementary school, where she added French and learned how to ply the halfpipe.

A Korean who won’t be returning is Viktor Ahn. With 3 gold medals and a bronze at the 2002 Salt Lake City and 2006 Torino Olympiads, Ahn (formerly known as Ahn Hyun-Soo) is one of the most decorated Olympians in South Korean history.

Unfortunately, following the 2006 Torino Games, the relationship between Ahn and his coach of the very successful Korean short track men’s team became tenable at best. Eventually, Ahn was put in a different group coached by the women’s track team, and the relationship became, apparently, unrepairable.

In 2008, Ahn fractured his knee while training, taking him out of action, and making it impossible for him to defend his world championship titles in 2008 and 2009. So when trials began for the 2010 Sochi Olympics, Ahn was not able to qualify due to the lack of points from not participating in the prior World Cups, so Ahn, somewhat surprisingly, was left off the South Korean squad heading to the 2010 Vancouver Games.

President Vladimir Putin Honours Russian Olympic Athletes
Putin and Ahn

In a tremendous shock to Korea, Ahn became a Russian citizen, and joined the Russian national team in time for the 2014 Sochi Olympics, where he had a successful comeback – three more gold medals and a bronze.

It goes without saying, with the Russia team under the dark cloud of state-sponsored cheating in addition to his “defection” to Russia, Koreans may have been looking forward to welcoming or heckling their for me star back to Korea. Unfortunately, that dramatic storyline never emerged.

While the IOC has approved over 160 Russians to compete at the Pyeong Chang Olympics, that list did not include Ahn, the taint of Russian medal winners who trained during the height of the state-sponsored doping machine prior and during the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Ahn is despondent, as he explained to RT:

This is really a very difficult situation. The IOC hasn’t specified any reasons for my exclusion from the Olympics. I don’t understand why they have made such a decision. I really can’t say anything right now. I’m still waiting, but if the situation is not resolved we will take action. During my entire career journey in short track, I’ve never given a reason to doubt my honesty and my integrity, especially when it comes to my victories which I achieved with nothing but my strength and dedication.

Shaun White ion Snowmass
Shaun White reacts to his perfect score

It’s disturbing to watch.

“I was going up and I remember seeing the wall come around…and I just kind of blanked.”

Of course he blanked. Shaun White‘s head, which was moving with considerable speed due to a complex high-speed aerial spin during a practice half-pipe showboarding session in October, smacked right into the lip of the wall. When White came tumbling down the wall, blood gushing from his face.

“I have never really had that much blood coming out of me before,” said White.

The two-time gold-medalist in the snowboard halfpipe from San Diego, California was in New Zealand to train in preparation of entering a fourth straight winter Olympics in PyeongChang when this accident happened, requiring 62 stitches to his face. But it took only a couple of months before White was back on the snow competing for Olympic qualification.

The last qualification took place on Saturday, January 13, in Snowmass, Colorado, and the 31-year-old White pulled off a perfect score of 100 to again qualify for his fourth Olympics in a row.

The footage of the accident was from an 8-part documentary called SnowPack: Shaun White and the U.S. Snowboard Team, which focuses on White’s journey to the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Games.