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February 10, 2014

Embracing 'chill' at the Winter Games

KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — In the beginning, before snowboards and finding your chakras, there was thought to be a tried-and-true formula for raising Olympic gold medalists: You started by sending your child to the right schools to be noticed, and on to the taskmaster, type-A coaches charged with, ahem, disciplining and honing a future champion's potential.

You hoped to instill a strong will to win, which wasn't the only thing but - if we're being honest - was often pretty damn close. You could accomplish this only by restricting large quantities of junk food and popular culture, it was thought.

And, finally, every blood relative you knew was counted on to support this Olympic dream your child had, even if it was more your dream.

Now, two days into the Olympic snowboard competition in the mountains of Sochi, where a dude and dudette are rocking gold by munching on Cocoa Puffs, oily chips and bringing their "spirit" grandmothers along - it's clear that old approach was always a waste.

Now you do yoga and mantras, like a grounded, serene and undeniably awesome Northern California air-catcher named Jamie Anderson, whose last, nearly flawless run made a South Lake Tahoe, Calif., granola girl the first-ever gold medalist in women's slopestyle Sunday.

Home-schooled nature hikes, deep breathing, meditation and moonstones also apparently now help produce Olympic champions, along with power stones and Nas rapping in your headphones.

"She's a bit of a hippie from Tahoe," the bronze medalist, Jenny Jones, said through her lovely British accent.

"Cali love all the way," Anderson said, smiling and tanned with a sort of celestial-being glow.

She was draped in the same American flag she put on during the medal ceremony nearly 45 minutes earlier and about 24 hours after a stoked Sage Kostenburg shocked the men's field by parlaying an onion rings-chocolate-and-chips dinner into gold.

Day 2, Snowboard Gold Held Hostage by Super-Cool, Chill American Kids.

Asked what helped her cope with the pressure before the night of the event, music, candles or meditation, Anderson said, "All of the above. . . . Put on some meditation music, burn some sage. Got the candles going. Just trying to do a little bit of yoga."

Ommmm.

After she was through centering a group of stressed-out reporters on Internet deadlines, it wasn't clear whether she had just swept the slopestyle snowboarding events for the U.S. or was set to open a restorative wellness center with a noon Ashtanga class.

Either way: Tell your children to breathe. Be present. Don't worry about sending them to institutions of higher learning; take a walk in the woods. Chill-ax, it'll all work out.

I know my homeland invented these immediate-gratification Olympic events because we are now an A.D.D. nation and have neither the time nor patience to skate for miles around an oval or cross-country ski till our lungs bleed. And I know "extreme" has become mainstream, unfairly seizing attention from the strong, swift and death-defying who ply their trades through original Olympic disciplines such as Nordic combined and long-track speedskating.

But a big part of me is thoroughly enjoying the next generation of flower children strapping medals around their necks partly because they were encouraged not to go with the normal flow.

Confession: My father and stepmother did the hippie thing for much of my childhood and early adolescence in Northern California. We ate a lot of unprocessed grain, burned a lot of incense, went to pillow parties to buy really ugly, multicolored beanbags that screwed up our backs. In general, we chilled.

Heck, we camped on a Hawaii beach for three months of my sixth grade year. When my sister asked whether we would ever go to school again, my father replied, "I'm thinking on that."

Jamie Anderson doesn't know it, but she is my spirit niece - much like the octogenarian she ran into near her Lake Tahoe condo a while back is her spirit grandmother.

Her own grandparents deceased, "I met this, like, grandmother woman, who at first didn't really like me, but we've really connected," she explained. Well into her 80s, of Bavarian ancestry, childless and widowed, Grandma Gabriella (Anderson didn't know her last name) and Anderson really bonded. They shared supper, long walks and deep conversations. When Anderson said she qualified for the Olympics, spirit grandma said she would come. And she did, standing behind the fence as her spirit granddaughter threw down a score of 95.25 on her last run - a golden run.

When asked how her trove of mantra beads, quartz stone and moonstone got through security, Anderson said, "I don't know. They didn't even question it. They knew it was just good vibes all the way."

Ommmm.

Jamie Anderson pretty much meditated in the womb.

Lauren Anderson was a child of the '60s, "a legend," Jamie said. Originally from Vermont, "she roadtripped to California in her 20s, ended up in Tahoe, met my dad at a ski resort they were working at."

Joey and Lauren fell in love, raised eight children, including a little blond girl who grew up to be a gold medalist.

Jamie is the fifth of eight home-schooled kids who spent most days outside, "hiking and learning about our natural environment and all the plants and if we got stuck in nature, how to survive."

The Andersons weren't wealthy enough to afford a snowboarding career for Jamie growing up. But her home mountain, Sierra at Tahoe, sponsored her at just 9 years old, and soon she was one of the best in her age group.

Legacy is deep, especially for a 23-year-old who considers much of her profession all fun and meditation.

 "It's like playing," she said. "We're pretty much snowboarding on a playground up there. It's hard to find that balance between competition and staying true to yourself and remembering why you started in the first place."

She added that Jones, seated beside her on the dais, sometimes "gets hippie with us."

"Actually last night I watched 'Downton Abbey,' " Jones said, and everyone laughed because, well, we knew:

No one gets hippie like Jamie, just as no one scoots down rails and flies over jumps like Jamie - gold medalist, NorCal granola girl, grinning with the stars and stripes around her on another happy day in the mountains, finding a higher consciousness first on a slope and then on a podium.

 

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