Gasser inspiring next generation in women’s snowboarding
Anna Gasser seems to always have a smile on her face.
The 30-year-old Austrian loves snowboarding and loves improving her craft. And she loves competing with the women around her, many of whom are a decade younger than she is.
So landing the cab double cork 1260 melon — a trick that involves starting on the back foot, three and a half spins, two off-axis turns and grabbing behind the front heel — may have sealed her defense of the big air gold medal, but Gasser would have had fun regardless.
"I didn't care very much about the result," Gasser told reporters afterward. "I cared more about snowboarding in general, and that's how I could defend this title."
Zoi Sandowski-Synnott was leading Gasser by a quarter of a point heading into the final run, so the Austrian stepped up a level. She was the first woman to land the trick back in 2019, and this time it won her gold. But Gasser felt that, more importantly, nailing the landing had progressed the sport even further.
"I didn't care about the 0.25," she said when discussing her final run. "I cared about the best snowboard tricks I could show."
'Snowboarding because I love it'
Gasser laughed off the fact that she was the oldest woman in the field. Because she started snowboarding when she was 18, considered late in the sport, she says she doesn't feel that old.
"I didn't have a typical journey because I started snowboarding so late," Gasser said. "I haven't had back-to-back winters like a lot of athletes have since they were 10 or younger."
Her background is in gymnastics, and she competed for the Austrian National Gymnastics Team until she switched to snowboarding in 2010. Since then, she has been a standard bearer for female snowboarders, becoming the first woman to land a cab double cork 900 in 2013.
"That was a pretty amazing moment in women's snowboarding because it had never been done before," New Zealand's Sandowski-Synnott, who was 14 when Gasser landed the trick, told DW.
The Austrian has won X Games gold medals in slopestyle (2017 in Hafjell, Norway) and big air (2018 in Aspen, Colorado in the US). In the first Olympic big air event at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Games, she landed her final run with a score of 96.00 points to defeat Jamie Anderson of the United States.
But even then, she wasn't chasing medals. She just wanted to snowboard, and have fun doing it.
"I started snowboarding because I love it, I have so much fun and it's my passion," Gasser said. "Even if I wasn't an Olympic champion, I would have done the same thing."
That's why Gasser hasn't thought about stopping and hasn't ruled out participating at the next Olympic Games in Milan.
"As long as I have this laugh and this fire in myself and I see that I'm progressing and I'm healthy, I want to keep going," Gasser said when DW asked about her future. "I'm just going to try to be happy, have fun and doing what feels right."
Progressing women's snowboarding
The Austrian takes pride in how women's snowboarding has progressed in the four years between her two gold medals. Even in qualifying, she said, women were landing tricks that would have made the podium in Pyeongchang.
"That just shows how much progression there has been," Gasser said. "All the ladies today rode so well, and everyone could have gotten a medal today. I feel like we push each other to get better and that's so amazing to see."
Sandowski-Synnott, who won gold in slopestyle last week, agrees. "A bunch of girls were doing 1260s, so there's been quite a jump in progression," she told DW. "I'm pretty excited for the next ones."
Gasser said she and the other competitors were really hoping that Japan's Reira Iwabuchi, who finished fourth, could have become the first woman to land a triple cork.
"We were on top and we were freaking out. I was so proud of her for trying that. She really chose progression in this event, and I admire that," Gasser said.
"Even though it would have meant that I wouldn't be on top of the podium, I wish she'd landed it. I'm proud of her. I feel like we all are."
The progression of the sport, especially for women, seems just as important, if not more, to Gasser than her own personal exploits. When she started in 2010, Shaun White had landed his signature double McTwist 1260 in the halfpipe. Now, double corks are common in women's snowboarding, and triple corks appear to be an achievable frontier — at least in big air.
"Women are here, women are hungry and they are not holding back anymore," Gasser said, smiling as she always seems to be.
Edited by Janek Speight