Anna Gasser: "The scariest thing ever to happen to me is getting lost in air"

Snowboard superstar Anna Gasser talks about her hero Simone Biles, twisties, and why she's relaxed heading into the Winter Olympics.

By Ed Knowles and Ash Tulloch
Picture by 2018 Getty Images

Anna Gasser of Austria came to snowboarding late (via gymnastics) when she was 18. Since then, she’s been to the Winter Olympics twice and become an Olympic champion.

She will be 30 at the start of Beijing 2022 and is hoping to defend her title in big air. And maybe take home some slopestyle silverware home with her too. The fine run of form heading into PyeongChang 2018 made her the one to watch. As the defending Olympic champion, she now feels much more relaxed about expectations for the next Winter Olympics.

“I wanted it so bad four years ago that not winning would have been such a big loss. And, now, I feel like I can enjoy the whole process more,” she said in an interview with Olympics.com.

“I love snowboarding right now. I have so much fun on the mountain. I enjoy learning new tricks… I still want to go there [and] hopefully fight for a gold medal… I still have the same goal… I'm just doing [it] a little different.”

Anna Gasser: Simone Biles and the ‘twisties’

Anna Gasser’s gymnastics background means she has an Olympic hero at the Summer Olympic Games: Simone Biles.

Biles withdrew from defending her all-around gymnastics title at Tokyo 2020 and decided to prioritise her mental health. She also said that she was losing her bearings when she was mid-flight – putting her physical safety in danger as well.

Gasser can relate to this and has also had bouts of what was labelled ‘the twisties’.

“The scariest thing ever to happen to me is getting lost in air. It's like losing control and you can't do anything.

“I'm so happy that Simone brought up how important it is that your brain works with your body… your body alone cannot do the trick... It also has to be your head.”

Anna Gasser: Big expectations but less pressure

Austria held a brilliant Olympic gold medal winning celebration party in South Korea when Anna Gasser won the first ever Olympic gold medal in big air. It was a moment of relief after an enormous amount of pressure.

“My last Olympics, I have to say it was [a] nightmare because I felt so much pressure going to [South] Korea because I was such a big favourite to win. Every event going to [South] Korea, I was winning and I had big expectations in myself and all other people had big expectations in me.”

“I was so nervous. I really wanted to perform [well] there.”

Now that she’s an Olympic champion, Gasser feels more relaxed. The competition to find a space on a podium may be harder than ever but that is only adding to her contentment.

“The progression in the sport has been so big. There are so many girls that are on a high level right now, so I know everything has to be right. It's kind of funny that I feel like less nervous… but, for me, being a favourite was so much pressure. I feel like I still want to medal [at the Olympics], but I don't think I'm the same big favourite.”

Anna Gasser: ‘My mum is really nervous’

Watching Anna Gasser zip off one of the huge slopestyle jumps is exhilarating to watch. The speed is ferocious and the height that the athletes manage to achieve is breathtaking. There is danger in such feats and it is torture for Gasser’s parents to watch – especially her mother.

My mum is really nervous. I don't think she can watch it on TV. She always turns around and waits [until] the run is over. My dad is a little more relaxed with watching… I don't know if my dad is as cool as he acts! He doesn't seem to be phased, but my mum is really nervous and also worried about me.

“If I called her in the middle of the day, the first question she asks me is if I'm alright… it's not that easy for you if [the thing your] daughter is doing is quite dangerous… They've been with me with [through] a lot of injuries already, so I fully understand that they're worried sometimes.”

Even though the tricks themselves look impossible, in reality, they are carefully coordinated parts of a slow progression over years of practice.

“I'm actually calculated and not just crazy… Everyone has some crazy moments. But, I feel like over the years, [my parents] started to trust my decisions.”

Anna Gasser: Dealing with nerves

Anna Gasser’s calm demeanour and ‘calculated’ decision-making doesn’t make her immune from feeling nervous before she drops in. Rather than letting those emotions have a negative effect on her performance, she chooses to view it as a positive.

I have to say the butterflies [in your stomach] before a competition, I also am not the biggest fan of them. [But] as soon as I drop in - those butterflies go away. And then after [I get] such a good feeling…

“The butterflies make [me] feel [more focused]. I feel like I need to have a certain pressure in my body to perform [well]. Those competitions where I don't have the butterflies, I don't care as much, those are the ones that didn't land so [well].”

Anna Gasser: Determined

One of the characteristics that has aided Anna Gasser in sustaining such a long and illustrious career is her determination. She’s launched a new film, became the first female to land a cab double cork 1260, and won four X Games gold medals.

The highlights reel will always be impressive. But a lot of hard work and setbacks are behind the successes.

You have to get back up and keep going. And maybe people don't see that in our posts on social media. It takes a lot of time to learn those tricks. It takes falls… you really have to want it.”

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