Red Gerard, the teenage snowboarder whose plan worked and life changed
A brilliant final slopestyle run changed the life of the USA teenager and sparked a deep affection for the PyeongChang 2018 host nation. Here, Gerard looks back on the “surreal” and “amazing” feelings that have followed his gold medal-winning performance.
Red Gerard is keen to debunk a few misconceptions. The Ohio-born USA snowboarder, who won slopestyle gold at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 with a breathtaking final run, found himself all over the media in the aftermath. But it wasn’t just because of his performance: most headlines focused on the fact he had apparently overslept on the morning of the competition, and lost his coat in the rush to make it to the piste.
The stories played to the cliché of the rock ’n’ roll, devil-may-care snowboarder; and perhaps were tinged with a little snobbery about whether they’re truly dedicated athletes. The only problem? They weren’t really true.
“We’ve all heard the stories,” said Gerard, reflecting on his incredible year. “I woke up late, lost the jacket, et cetera, et cetera. But what really happened was I hit snooze a couple times. I was not late. I did borrow [room mate and fellow snowboarder] Kyle Mack’s jacket. But the rest of the morning went like any contest day. Warm up, know my run, and just try to land. It worked real good on my last run, and that’s still the most surreal feeling I have ever had.”
A creative approach to the course, topped with an amazingly executed triple cork, it turned out, would change Red Gerard’s life. He’d been lying in 11th place in the standings as he approached that third, decisive run.
Not many people had heard of Gerard at the time – even within his sport, the then 17-year-old was still just a hotly tipped up-and-coming rider, rather than one with many titles to his name. A couple of minutes later, he’d put together a performance so audacious it would make Games highlights reels all over the world.
“You know, I approach every competition with the goal to perform my best on that day and lay down a run that I will walk away from and make myself and my family proud,” he said. “All the guys out there are genuinely pushing the sport higher and higher each day, and the level of competition was insane. But basically my brother and I had a plan, and it worked.”
His brother Malachi, who had enthused Red with his own love of skating and snowboarding – he began at the age of two – became a semi-management figure during the frenzy that followed.
Red had become the youngest male US Olympian to win a gold in 90 years, the youngest men’s snowboarding gold medallist and the first Olympic Winter Games medallist born in this millennium. The likeable teen saw it as the perfect opportunity to promote his sport further, on national TV shows, and beyond.
“PyeongChang was an incredible opportunity to see the world stage and come together with my team to progress snowboarding and represent the US,” he said.
“Post-Olympics, I did a lot of cool press opportunities and really enjoyed how well received snowboarding has become. It’s a highlight, for sure, because our sport carries an authentic culture that is very inclusive. I am hoping to spread the opportunities that snowboarding has brought me to other kids and families alike.”
The whole experience left him with an abiding love of the land where he made his name – and an enthusiasm for the Olympic Games generally. “Our hosting country Korea was absolutely gracious and accommodating in every way,” he said.
“My family and friends were so happy for me, and of course pretty much every single person I have met since the Olympics has congratulated me. It’s an amazing feeling and very hard to describe. The Olympics was a positive change for me, and I really want to thank everyone who helped me achieve that dream.”
Gerard, who turned 18 in the summer, is now back doing what he loves best: training in Colorado, and tearing up competitions, in both slopestyle and big air. Life is good – and he’s already got one eye on the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022.
“For now, I’m super focused on enjoying the other parts of snowboarding and filming a ton,” he said. “[But] even though the next Olympics are three short years away, of course I am setting my sights on making the team and performing my best.”