By J.A. Adande
The weather was the main story on the second full day of competition at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, and for a more detailed analysis let’s go to 17-year-old American snowboarder Red Gerard’s description of his early trips down the slopestyle venue.
“The first two runs it was crazy wind,” Gerard said.
The wind was crazy enough to postpone the men’s downhill skiing races and scratch the women’s slopestyle snowboarding qualifying round. But it eased up enough for Gerard to go all-out on his third run of the day. He turned in an aerial adventure that earned him a score of 87.16 points, which held up as the best of the competition and earned him the United States’ first gold medal of the 2018 Winter Games.
Let’s take a moment to appreciate what snowboarding has meant to the Winter Olympics in general and the United States in particular. Adding the mountain shredders and embracing their culture is one of the best decisions ever made by the International Olympic Committee. Snowboarding brings a freshness and youthful relevancy to the Games that, say, cross-country skiing could never achieve. And for the U.S., Gerard’s victory meant snowboarders had accounted for 11 of the United States’ 44 gold medals since snowboarding joined the Olympics in 1998 – exactly 25 percent.
And while we pause to appreciate what the snowboarders have meant to the Olympics, we also got a chance to see what the Olympics can mean to a 17-year-old. Even in a sport that skews toward the youthful side, he’s the youngest to win a snowboarding gold medal. This latest generation didn’t grow up revering Olympic-athletes-turned-Wheaties-box-covers the way previous generations did. They didn’t grow up with network TV as the sole home entertainment option, when a scant few hours of daily Olympic Winter Olympics coverage was all sports fans had to cling to in February. So Gerard’s father always tried to tell him what a big deal the Olympics are. Finally, after not just experiencing the Olympics but winning a gold medal, the message is sinking in with Red Gerard.
“Yeah, I think I’m starting to get it, to be honest,” Red Gerard said. “I always grew up watching the X Games, [Mountain] Dew tour, all that. To, like, finally be here, and realize all this…the huge stadium and all the people-watching and all that, I think I’m starting to get how big the Olympics is.”
And what were his thoughts the moment when he realized he would leave the Olympics as a champion?
“Um…Yoo hoo!” Gerard said.
He raised his arm, perhaps unintentionally mimicking the pose of the Olympic mascot Soohorang.
The Olympics have a new fan, and the United States has a new Olympic hero. The whole experience had Gerard amped to take on his next goal.
“This summer, I will graduate high school,” he said. “I’m determined!”