Dave Reynolds wants his athletes to approach the Olympic Games like any other competition.
The best snowboarders in the world regularly compete against each other in large-scale, media-heavy contests like the X Games, Dew Tour or World Cup events, explained Reynolds, a 42-year-old Bend native who now serves as a coach for the U.S. Snowboard team.
But Reynolds, who is coaching at his first Olympics, said the event does have a way of putting athletes through the gauntlet.
“Someone put it pretty well: It’s just like any other event, but they put a whole lot of stuff in your way to challenge you, like schedules and interviews and press conferences and bus rides to see who can overcome it best,” said Reynolds, one of two coaches overseeing a team of four male and four female slopestyle and big air riders in Pyeongchang, South Korea. “Once we’re on snow, it’s the same group of people, the course is similar. It’s a bunch of rails, a bunch of jumps, figure out your run. But it’s challenging because it’s such a big, global stage. There are a lot of photo shoots. And there’s security. There are transportation issues — you can’t just go. You have to wait for the next bus. You have to think ahead.”
The extra media scrutiny and logistical hurdles — not to mention bitter cold and heavy winds — did not hamper the American snowboarders in the slopestyle event last week. On Feb. 11, 17-year-old Redmond Gerard threw down a 87.16-point run on his third and final attempt in the slopestyle finals to win a surprise gold medal. The next day, Jamie Anderson defended her title as the women’s slopestyle champion, while her American teammates Jessika Jenson, Hailey Langland and Julia Marino all finished in the top 11. Chloe Kim and Shaun White went on to bring home gold in the halfpipe.
The eight slopestyle athletes return to compete in big air, an inaugural Olympic event, this week. Each rider will drop down a 150-or-so-foot tall ramp and launch into the air, with points given out of 100 based on the difficulty and execution of tricks attempted while the athlete is in the air. The women’s qualifying round was held Monday morning (Sunday afternoon pacific time) and Anderson, Jenson and Marino qualified for the finals, which will be held Friday morning. The men’s qualifying runs will be held Wednesday morning (Tuesday afternoon pacific time).
“I think it’s going to be great, because these athletes are get to be the first to ever participate” in an Olympic big air competition, Reynolds said last week. “If they do well on the podium, that would be even bigger. Last time, slopestyle was the (new event), and two Americans won, and it was huge. Who knows how long (big air) will last, who knows how it will progress, how big it will get and how crazy the tricks will get, but being the first is really special.”
Reynolds, a Mountain View High School grad, took over a fledging Mt. Bachelor Sports Education Foundation program soon after he graduated from Gonzaga University. During his seven years at MBSEF, he coached a young Ben Ferguson, who finished fourth for the U.S. in the halfpipe last week, as well as Ferguson’s younger brother Gabe, also a competitive snowboarder, and Kent Callister, who grew up in Bend and finished 10th in the halfpipe representing Australia.
Reynolds then moved to take a job with the Park City Ski & Snowboard in Utah, occasionally taking breaks to coach snowboarding peers who hoped to qualify for the Olympics or other high-profile competitions. But after the 2014 Olympics, when Anderson and Sage Kotsenburg won gold medals in slopestyle in Sochi, Russia, the U.S. Ski and Snowboarding team decided to start a development team for up-and-coming slopestyle and big air athletes, which is the structure used for many other winter sports. Reynolds was chosen to lead the group.
“The group of kids that came on that year, I worked with them for three years, just sort of brought them up, and all the sudden that group was challenging the established pro team that already existed,” Reynolds said. “We were all at the same events. My kids were sometimes beating (the pros), they were sometimes getting beat. But we were right in the mix. Mike (Ramirez) had the older group, I had the younger group, and we were all at the same camps, same events, doing the same thing, but just two separate entities. The organization decided it would be smart to combine the two. And so Mike and I are both the head coaches of slopestyle and big air together, and my younger group just kind of blended up to the big group.”
Gerard, the 17-year-old slopestyle winner, was a member of that younger group whose rapid improvement forced the pros and development team to merge.
“I was watching with some friends, and when we saw Red land his run, I mean we all jumped off the couch and were screaming, I was hoarse the next day,” Reynolds’s girlfriend, Tara Kelly, 33, said by phone from Park City. “(Reynolds) does say that this is just another competition, but I think it definitely is a very big deal. Watching him react to Red’s gold medal just recently, that was a reaction I’ve never seen.”
Reynolds’s mother, Rosalee Reynolds, and sister Julie Ann King also said they have been excitedly watching the snowboarding events from Central Oregon.
“Mom and I finally got each other on the phone, and we’re both crying and laughing and just couldn’t believe it, we were so excited,” King said of watching the men’s slopestyle finals. “I think that was our only regret — we should have just gotten together to watch it. It was so fun.”
King said watching her brother interact with the athletes before or after their runs reminds her of their father, Ralph Reynolds, a longtime teacher at Redmond High School who passed away in 2014.
“Our parents were such incredible educators, and David, I know, got that directly from them,” King said. “Being able to see him on TV when he fist bumps each of his kids when they’re on the way down or he’s meeting them at the bottom, it’s incredible to me how much I see them looking up to them. It catches me in my chest every time.”
Back in Pyeongchang, Dave Reynolds said much of the hard work is done. The athletes have spent months and years training in the gym and perfecting progressively more difficult moves.
“The No. 1 (role) is logistics here,” Reynolds said. “What time do they get on the bus here? What time is practice? But when it comes to snow, it’s helping them coordinate their runs. They all have a bag of tricks, but which ones to use in which order? Do you have to come out forward or backwards? What’s going to score well? Did that look good? Is this going to look better?”
And even though he has already landed what his mother, sisters and girlfriend each described as his dream job, Reynolds said he is still learning, too, especially at international competitions and camps where he can interact with coaches and riders from around the world.
“There’s a really cool camaraderie in the group of international coaches: the Finnish guy, the Norwegian guy, the Swedish guy, the guy from the Netherlands, we’re all friends,” Reynolds said. “I don’t know what the top of an alpine course is like, but I doubt they’re talking to each other as much as we are. And so you learn a lot. You learn theories and you see what they’re doing with their athletes, they see what you’re doing with your athletes. You can never learn too much. There’s no an ending point to what you are doing. Every single day I feel like I come away with something new.”
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