KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — They were bruised and battered, but nearly every woman in snowboard slopestyle qualifying competition Thursday opted for the big jumps over the smaller hits.
While the course is indeed challenging — some are saying too much so — the women stepped up for the first-ever Olympic slopestyle event.
For the veterans — the women who have long competed on the biggest slopestyle venue at Aspen's Winter X Games — the big jumps were challenging but doable. And for the newcomers, more than half the 23 snowboarders competing Thursday, the slopestyle course was Olympian.
"I honestly thought a lot more girls would be hitting those (smaller) jumps. I thought it would be 50-50. I like big jumps, but I was intimidated and I was scared," said Spencer O'Brien, Canada's 2013 slopestyle world champion. "It's hard because there are a lot of women in this field whereas at X Games, you only have eight of the world's best. Here you have, what, almost 30 riders. So sometimes it can be really scary for a young rider that maybe just made into the Games and they are facing jumps three times the size they have ever hit."
Even the veterans were getting pounded. Though course designers tweaked jump angles, the landings were not as steep as they could be, meaning riders were taking huge impacts as they landed their spinning, flipping tricks.
"I was hurting today," said Jamie Anderson, the California slopestyle queen whose nine X Games medals make her a favorite for Olympic gold. "There's been a lot of impact for everyone. Little 15-year-olds are like, 'I'm not old and my back is sore every day.' It's not even from crashing, just from riding."
Anderson qualified for Sunday's finals contest alongside teammate Karly Shorr. The two Americans won't have to compete in the second qualifier Sunday before the finals. They joined six other women who advanced to finals in the Olympic debut of slopestyle.
Switzerland's Isabel Derungs, Australia's Torah Bright, O'Brien and Finland's Enni Rukajarvi led the first round of qualifying under a cloudless sky. Austria's Anna Gasser beat Anderson's first-run score to lead the second round of qualifying. Swiss rider Elana Koenz finished third. Michigan's Shorr spun a solid final run on the daunting course to grab the fourth qualifying position.
Americans Ty Walker and Jessika Jenson will get another shot at the finals Sunday. Walker will need the two days off. The 16-year-old Vermont rookie struggled during practice on the course's technical rail features, bruising her elbow and knee on the first day and badly bruising her heel on the second day. Thursday, she navigated the course with little trickery and limped gallantly through the media horde toward a cheering mob of supporters before letting her eyes water.
"It definitely wasn't how I imagined my Olympic run, my first run in the Olympics, to be," Walker said. "But you just have to play the cards in your hand and put myself in the best position for Sunday."
Still, the women showed gumption, throwing big, inverted spins on a daunting course.
O'Brien, who likely represents Anderson's biggest competition as one of the most progressive riders in the sport, said there needs to be more local, smaller events to better prepare the next generation of women slopestyle riders for the big stage that is the Winter Olympics.
"We need better grassroots competition to lead up into this level. It's hard and it's dangerous and there's a lot of risk," O'Brien said. "It goes down to the roots of our competition and that needs to grow in order for people to be properly ready."