The Medal Stand: Winter Olympics, days 3 & 4

Jessika Jenson, of the United States, jumps during the women's slopestyle final at Phoenix Snow Park at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Monday, Feb. 12, 2018. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

I had a very blunt reaction to Rigby High School graduate Jessika Jenson’s first run while watching Sunday night’s women’s snowboard slopestyle via the NBC Sports app on my phone.

“Holy crap.”

I’ve watched livestream of her countless times in the six and a half years I’ve covered her — Dew Tour, Burton U.S. Open, Olympic qualifiers and of course the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, — and I’ve watched her teammates and the top ranked international riders nearly as much. I’ve never felt as much genuine disbelief during one of Jenson’s events until Sunday night when she received a 72.26 for a clean, aggressive run midst high winds and after competition was delayed twice previously. Not to just put her in the lead, but put her in the lead at the Olympics. It was equally incredible to see her holding down third for as long as she did and to hear the commentators’ reaction to it — one of them actually said, “Jessika Jenson in bronze medal position. Who would’ve thought this going in?” I knew there were several riders still to go and big scores were certainly on the way, but it was so cool to take in that moment as it happened.

I couldn’t help noticing when Jenson waved to the camera that she appeared much more relaxed than she did in Sochi. She looked like she was having a blast out there all things considered, I’m sure that was a direct correlation to her doing as well as she did despite the conditions. Snagging fifth place and putting forth the second best U.S. performance of the day behind repeat champion ‘Slopestyle Queen’ Jamie Anderson four years after placing 13th in her first Olympics is astounding. She still has more to come, too, with big air qualifications scheduled for 5:30 p.m. (MST) this upcoming Sunday.

Twitter was abuzz with viewers and journalists alike asking why competition was permitted to take place in strong winds. I was honestly more interested in what the athletes had to say, especially with so many crashes. I’ve followed the sport long enough and talked to Jenson enough to know that snowboarders must adapt to the elements, but I did scratch my head about why alpine skiing kept getting postponed and yet women’s snowboard slopestyle took place after two delays. I got my answer — at least partially — upon reading USA Today reporter Rachel Axon’s Monday story about the FIS‘s decision to go forward with the competition. The consensus was that the athletes felt like they were denied the opportunity to showcase what slopestyle is about because they had to tone down their runs due to safety concerns. Some athletes also expressed their belief that the FIS favors skiers over snowboarders, thus why alpine keeps getting postponed. Thankfully no one was injured, but it was an unfortunate, confusing situation overall.

Agony and ecstasy

Monday’s women’s snowboard halfpipe finals reiterated to me what Jenson has told me for years: Team USA is the toughest Olympic snowboarding team in the world. At one point, three U.S. women were in the top four Monday. Thanks to Jenson, I’ve been aware of Chloe Kim since late 2015. Nothing she did surprised me Monday, but her reaction to knowing gold was hers before her final run was priceless. After men’s halfpipe qualifications, I’m also really looking forward to tonight’s finals.

As pumped as I was for the U.S. halfpipe snowboarders, I was gutted very early Sunday for moguls skier Jaelin Kauf, originally from Alta, Wyo. The snow was falling so heavy at one point, I don’t know how they could see in that middle section. Seventh place in an Olympic debut is amazing, but my heart hurt when reading her quotes to Jackson Hole News and Guide sports editor Clark Forster about coming one spot short of advancing to finals.

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