In the 12 months since winning the first Olympic big air gold medal, snowboarder Anna Gasser has propelled her sport to ever greater heights. Here, the pioneer reflects on how risking everything to fulfil her “childhood dream” was the best decision she has ever made.
To ride a 49m big air ramp requires bravery beyond belief. But to choose to drop in for your final run at the inaugural Olympic Winter Games competition and perform a trick neither you nor your coach intended takes it to a whole new level.
“I didn’t know what last trick I should do. I honestly didn’t decide until the last second before I dropped in,” Austria’s Anna Gasser said, the amused awe still evident in her voice a year to the day after she snatched gold at PyeongChang 2018. “It was between doing a backside [double cork] 10  – which I did for my second jump – and trying to do that better and getting a better score and being really close to Jamie [Anderson, the rider from the USA who led after two rounds], or doing a totally different trick which was harder but if I landed it would be enough [to win gold].”
“In the last seconds I decided to go with the more difficult jump,” she continued. “Just because I think I would have regretted it way more if I’d landed the second jump and hadn’t tried the more difficult one.”
It was an excellent decision. Gasser nailed her cab double cork 1080 (two flips and three spins) – one of the toughest tricks out there. Not that she knew it at the time.
“I was so focused that when I landed I didn’t even realise what I had just done,” she said. “I had to re-watch the trick on the TV screen to see that I did it right. I was so in my own world until the second I landed, I didn’t hear the crowd, I didn’t hear the music, anything from the second I dropped.”
“When the judges took some time I thought, ‘Oh no, did I maybe do a hand drag or did I maybe open up too early?’ and I wanted to try and watch again,” she laughed. “The three minutes until it was official felt like 10 minutes.”
Four years on from being “overwhelmed by the sheer size” of the Sochi 2014 Games, the Austrian was an Olympic champion. It more than made up for the disappointment of the slopestyle final, 10 days earlier. In an event won by the USA’s Anderson, Gasser had, like many riders, found the strong crosswinds too difficult to handle as she failed to finish either run and ended 15th.
Remarkably, however, the Olympic gold was only one of two career ambitions the 27-year-old fulfilled in 2018. Nine months post-PyeongChang, a relaxed, confident Gasser flew down the ramp at the Stubai glacier in Austria and became the first woman ever to pull off a cab triple cork.
“I think it [the Olympic Games gold] definitely helped,” Gasser said. “It was a big goal of mine to go for a triple. It was a logical step because I had been going double and 10s for the last two years, and I just wanted to do it for myself more than for anything else.”
The successfully completed trick instantly reverberated around the snowboard community and well beyond, creating an impact Gasser had “not expected”. Incredibly, she had nearly gone for it at the PyeongChang 2018 Games themselves.
“I was thinking about the trick already at the Olympics,” Gasser revealed. “I was thinking if Jamie [Anderson] lands the cab 10 then all I can do is the triple if I want to win. My plan C was to do it at the Olympics – I don’t know if I would have landed it. I didn’t tell anyone about the idea; it was just in my head.”
“In freestyle sport, the Olympic values are our values,” she said. “I train with people all over the world and it’s really cool to see just how much it means to everyone to just be a part of the whole experience and to compete with your friends.
“When one person does something cool all the others want to follow, and it pushes the whole sport forwards. I love the healthy competition and I also love the fact that the others are happy when someone does something cool.”