X Games still the pinnacle for snowboarding champion Anderson

LONDON (Reuters) - American snowboarder Jamie Anderson won the inaugural slopestyle gold at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, but for her, as with many extreme sports athletes, the pinnacle remains the X Games.

Anderson, who will be competing in the women’s snowboard slopestyle at the 2018 Winter X Games in Aspen on Friday, was victorious in Sochi after the International Olympic Committee introduced the event to the Games program for the first time.

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Big air snowboarding has also been added to the agenda for this year's Olympics in Pyeongchang, giving snowboarders such as Anderson more chances to win medals.

As much as Anderson treasures her Olympic gold, she says the X Games still takes precedence and she is not treating the event in Aspen as merely preparation for Pyeongchang next month.

“I’m really excited to be at the X Games. It’s one of the best events in snowboarding. It’s kind of like our Super Bowl of the sport,” Anderson told Reuters via email from Aspen.

"I wasn’t going to miss it for anything! I would rather come to X Games than the Olympics."

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Jamie Anderson through the years
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Jamie Anderson through the years
Snowboarder Jamie Anderson poses for a portrait at the U.S. Olympic Committee Media Summit in Park City, Utah, U.S. September 27, 2017. She listens to 90's hip hop while training. REUTERS/Mike Blake
Jamie Anderson of the U.S. celebrates after the women's snowboard slopestyle finals event at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics in Rosa Khutor, February 9, 2014. Anderson laid down the best run of the day to clinch the first Olympic gold medal in women's snowboarding slopestyle at the Sochi Games on Sunday. REUTERS/Mike Blake (RUSSIA - Tags: SPORT OLYMPICS SPORT SNOWBOARDING)
Gold medalist Jamie Anderson of the U.S. poses on the podium at the medal ceremony after the women's snowboard slopestyle event at the at the Sochi 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, February 9, 2014. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov (RUSSIA - Tags: OLYMPICS SPORT SNOWBOARDING)
Snowboarder Jamie Anderson arrives on the red carpet at the annual White House Correspondents' Association Dinner in Washington, May 3, 2014. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES - Tags: ENTERTAINMENT SOCIETY POLITICS MEDIA SPORT SNOWBOARDING)
Gold medalist Anna Gasser of Austria with silver medalist Jamie Anderson of the US and bronze medalist Julia Marino of the US celebrate on the podium at the X-Games Snowboarding Slopestyle finals in Hafjell, Norway March 10, 2017. NTB Scanpix/Geir Olsen/via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NORWAY OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN NORWAY. NO COMMERCIAL SALES.
Jamie Anderson of the U.S.reacts on the finish line during the women's snowboard slopestyle finals at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics in Rosa Khutor, February 9, 2014. REUTERS/Mike Blake (RUSSIA - Tags: SPORT OLYMPICS SNOWBOARDING)
Olympic snowboarder Jamie Anderson poses for a portrait during the 2013 U.S. Olympic Team Media Summit in Park City, Utah October 2, 2013. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT OLYMPICS PORTRAIT SNOWBOARDING)
First placed Spencer O'Brien of Canada celebrates on the podium with second placed Jamie Anderson (L) of the U.S. and third placed Enni Rukajaervi (R) of Finland, after winning the women's slopestyle event during the World Snowboarding Championships at the Wyller Snowboard Stadium in Oslo February 19, 2012. REUTERS/Krister Sorbo/Scanpix (NORWAY - Tags: SPORT SNOWBOARDING) THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. NORWAY OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN NORWAY. NO COMMERCIAL SALES
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This may seem surprising to casual fans, with the Olympic Games being the ultimate goal for many athletes across the world.

Yet snowboarding’s relationship with the Olympics has been a slow burn, with some within the sport believing the competitive side of the Games goes against the very ethos of snowboarding.

“The Olympics is a little old school in the fact that they didn’t add snowboarding sooner,” said Anderson. “As soon as they did it was the number one rated sport in the Games and quickly after they added big air.

“I think all of our grandparents know what the Olympics are, while not as many elders know what the X Games are.”

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Olympians to watch in 2018
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Olympians to watch in 2018
Figure skater Nathan Chen poses for a portrait at the U.S. Olympic Committee Media Summit in Park City, Utah, U.S. September 25, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
Figure skater Adam Rippon poses for a portrait at the U.S. Olympic Committee Media Summit in Park City, Utah, U.S. September 25, 2017. Rippon listens to electronic dance music while he trains. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
Ice dancers Alex Shibutani and Maia Shibutani pose for a portrait at the U.S. Olympic Committee Media Summit in Park City, Utah, U.S. September 25, 2017. The pair listens to Coldplay and Perez Prado while they train. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - APRIL 25: Snowboarder Shaun White poses for a portrait during the Team USA PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics portraits on April 25, 2017 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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BUDAPEST, HUNGARY - SEPTEMBER 30: Maame Biney of United States reacts during the ladies 500m quarterfinals heat two during the Audi ISU World Cup Short Track Speed Skating at Bok Hall on September 30, 2017 in Budapest, Hungary. (Photo by Christof Koepsel - ISU/ISU via Getty Images)
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SUSTAINED SUCCESS

Anderson, who has 12 X Games medals to go with her gold from Sochi, will go into this year's Olympics as the favorite.

Despite her sustained period of success, the 27-year-old believes the younger athletes on tour will push her to even greater things in Pyeongchang.

“I was on top for a handful of years and not really progressing because I was winning without much effort,” said Anderson.

“Now I’m seeing these younger girls coming up and they are starting to beat me so it’s fun to re-light that fire within and realize I can look up to girls like Anna Gasser, Hailey Langland and Julia Marino.”

Anderson’s main competition in Pyeongchang is likely to come from Austria’s Gasser. The 26-year-old, who is also in Aspen for the X Games this weekend, is the world champion in big air and currently leads in the FIS Snowboard World Cup.

Gasser will be looking to rebound from disappointment in Sochi four years ago when she fell twice in the slopestyle final, having qualified in first.

Anderson is looking forward to facing her, as well as American teenager Langland, in Pyeongchang.

“Gasser has been riding so good and she’s really inspiring me with a lot of the stuff she’s doing,” said Anderson.

“Also riders like Hailey Langland -- I love her because she does what she wants... and for me that’s the most important thing in snowboarding. It’s going to be fun to see what everyone pulls together.”

The women’s freestyle snowboarding events promise to be some of the most popular and hotly-contested at the Olympic Games.

Anderson and Gasser will first go head-to-head at the X Games, with the slopestyle on Friday and the big air competition on Saturday.

(Reporting by Jack Tarrant; Editing by Toby Davis)

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