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- Alyssa Roenigk is a senior writer for ESPN whose assignments have taken her to six continents and caused her to commit countless acts of recklessness. (Follow @alyroe on Twitter).
Four years ago, U.S. snowboarders Red Gerard and Hailey Langland made their Olympic debuts as 17-year-olds competing in slopestyle and big air, and as a new couple whose longtime friendship had turned to romance just weeks before the Games.
Neither of their experiences in Pyeongchang, however, went anything like they envisioned. Looking back, Gerard and Langland, now 21, agree those two weeks in February 2018 changed them profoundly, shaping their outlooks on snowboarding and the way in which they approach competition today.
Gerard arrived in South Korea unaware of the enormity of the event and, after winning gold on his third and final slopestyle run, struggled in the searing post-Olympic spotlight.
Langland placed so much pressure on herself to deliver on the world’s biggest stage that when she finished sixth in slopestyle, she questioned how she defined herself.
Now, as they prepare to compete in their sophomore Olympics with new bags of tricks and fresh outlooks on the Games, we present four of the wildest, most impactful years of their lives, as told by the snowboarding power couple and those who know them best.
Born five weeks apart on opposite sides of the country in the summer of 2000, Gerard and Langland started snowboarding early in their lives.
A Cleveland native, Gerard is the third youngest of eight and learned to ride by chasing his older brothers on family trips to New York. Originally from San Clemente, Calif., Langland started riding at 5, when her dad, Geoff, a sponsored rider in the ’80s and ’90s, put her on a board. She spent her early years chasing him around Big Bear Mountain in SoCal, where the sport became a family affair.
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When Gerard was 12, his family moved to the snowy mountains of Silverthorne, Colo., where he and his brothers turned the backyard into an ever-evolving snowboard terrain park. The Langlands relocated from San Clemente to Big Bear when Hailey was in elementary school so she could ride more frequently. Around high school, she moved in with her grandparents in Tahoe and began competing seriously.
Jen Gerard, Red’s mom: When we lived in Cleveland, we had a cabin in western New York, and the kids would build jumps. There were big flood lights and they’d be out there till 1 a.m.
Gerard: We moved into our house [in Silverthorne] in 2012, and the first thing my brother said was, ‘It has a perfect slant for a backyard park.’ There used to be horses on the property and there were a bunch of horse gates around, so we used them to set up little rails that winter. Each year, it got better and bigger. We even got a rope tow.
Michelle Langland, Hailey’s mom: When we had Hailey, my husband said, ‘They make small boards. It would be cool to take her snowboarding.’ We had other friends that fell in love with it, too, so we would all go snowboarding together. She was the only little one that went with the group.
Langland: I spent so many years riding with my dad, and I looked up to him and thought he was the world’s best snowboarder. Then he showed me snowboard videos and I found out he’s not.
Michelle: I remember my husband saying when Hailey was younger, ‘She is out-snowboarding me. We didn’t do any of these tricks, the gaps and rotations. That’s outside my realm.’
Langland: I started to get better than him and do bigger jumps and backside 180s and he couldn’t hang anymore. I was probably eight.
Annika Morgan, Langland’s close friend and member of the 2022 German Olympic snowboard team: The first time I watched the Dew Tour, I saw Hailey and she was like 15 and came in third place. I was inspired by her because she was so young and had so much style. I DMed her and told her she was my inspiration.
Langland: I felt like I was thrown into the professional contest scene maybe a little too early. I was so young and didn’t have a ton of tricks, but I kept finishing on the podium in big events. I won my first contest, a Mammoth Grand Prix, right after the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games. I was 14. It was a shock.
Michelle: She’s always been a natural at things, and she’s naturally curious. We never had to worry about her being like the kids on the hill we would see get distracted. She was always full-fledged in there. We knew she would enjoy it, but never expected her to make a career of it.
Their meet cute
A rare sports couple who compete at the same level in the same sport, Gerard and Langland have known each other for nearly a decade. They started dating just weeks before dropping into the biggest contest of their lives.
Langland: Red and I met in Mount Hood [Oregon] when we were 12 and on the Burton team. Our team manager gave him my phone number and he started texted me funny messages. We became best friends for years.
Michelle: When Hailey first met Red and they were part of the same friend group, I knew he took to her and was fond of her and he liked to make her laugh. I remember telling her, ‘You’re going to end up dating that guy.’ I could see it.
Langland: I think everyone but me saw it. I’d say, ‘No, we’re too young. We’re too good of friends.’ But it made sense. Even though we spend every single day together, I don’t think we get tired of one another. He’s my favorite person to be around.
Michelle: It’s nice to have someone who’s not only your best friend but is in the same line of business and has the same schedule and love of things. It’s nice to know she has someone to lean on and vice versa, and that they have each other on the road.
Jamie Anderson, two-time Olympic gold medalist in snowboard slopestyle: When I was younger, it seemed the boys didn’t want to date snowboarders. But since Ty [Nicholson, 2018 Canadian Olympian and Anderson’s fiancé] and I got together almost 10 years ago, I’ve seen a lot more snowboarders pair up and it warms my heart. I think we made it okay.
Langland: When we were 17, it just sorta happened. It was January, right before the Olympics. It’s a super cliché story, but it’s our story.
Conrad Gerard, Red’s dad: Hailey is the adult in the relationship. She’s so awesome for him. We think of her as a daughter.
Gerard: I feed off Hailey’s good energy.
Anderson: They’re a little power couple.
Their Olympic debuts
Gerard’s story has become the stuff of Olympic legend. The morning of snowboard slopestyle finals, he overslept, misplaced his team jacket and dropped in for his runs wearing the way-too-big jacket of his U.S. teammate, Kyle Mack. He fell on his first two runs and nailed his third as 18 members of his family cheered and partied at the bottom of the course. He swore on live TV when his winning score appeared on the board — and he also made history. The first U.S. gold medalist in Pyeongchang, Gerard became the youngest male athlete to win gold at the Winter Games since 1928 and the youngest snowboarding medalist since the sport was added in 1998.
The youngest athlete named to the 2018 U.S. Olympic snowboard team, Langland had become a staple on the podium at major contests. At the 2017 X Games in Aspen, she became the first woman to land a cab double cork 1080 in competition and won big air gold. By the time she arrived in Pyeongchang, she had oversized expectations for herself and felt incredible pressure to live up to them.
Langland: Red and I were dating in Pyeongchang. Isn’t that funny? I think it’s so funny because Red was so relaxed in the last Olympics, and I was so not relaxed.
Gerard: I thought the Olympics was just another contest and not this massive thing.
Conrad: I grew up watching the Winter Olympics. We sat down as a family and watched every night. But Red had no experience with it because he grew up with a smartphone. He watched snowboard videos all day long.
Jen: We had our big family at our house for Christmas and Red was talking about going backcountry snowmobiling in January. We were like, ‘We gotta talk to this kid. The Olympics is in February. He’s not getting it.
Conrad: He hadn’t even officially made the team yet.
Jen: We asked him to meet us at a Starbucks by our house. It was just the three of us.
Conrad: I was like, ‘I don’t know, man. This is a pretty big event. You might want to practice.’ We’ve never pushed him on this stuff. But when he was saying he was going backcountry snowmobiling, I was like, ‘You don’t understand the Olympics. This is your time to shine, and this is where the average Joe will recognize who you are and what you do. You have a chance to have a voice in the sport.’
Jen: Being an Olympian opens doors and you should really respect this time and take it seriously and practice. And he listened. But he didn’t understand until he got there.
Langland: By the time I got to Pyeongchang, I was so used to making the podium at every contest, that was my expectation. So, the Olympics was a complete circus for me mentally and physically and Red seemed so careless — or carefree. Day after day in practice, I was getting beat up. I was mentally exhausted. I wasn’t doing the runs I knew I could do. And then, the day of competition, we got called into pretty horrific weather. That contest didn’t showcase the level of women’s snowboarding at the time. We felt so burned.
Gerard: Two runs into finals, I was so over everything. I remember laying down in the riders’ tent like, ‘Oh my gosh, I just want to go home.’ I was so tired.
Jen: Red’s usually known for landing on his feet. He said his first run, he was nervous. His second, it was the wind. And on his last run, he just wanted to get it over with.
Gerard: But as soon as I got in the start gate, I had this realization. Okay, I have so many people that flew out here to watch me. The least I can do is try my hardest and land a run.
Conrad: We’d like to hope we give him some inspiration.
Gerard: I’ve done this run a hundred times. Sure, the weather’s a little bit weird, but it’s 45 seconds of your life. Just do it and see where it puts you. And it ended up working out.
Jen: We were all cheering and screaming [when his winning score came up]. There were 18 of us. We did have fun.
Gerard: I think they all used me as an excuse to go on vacation and go snowboarding. But I loved having them there and getting to have dinner with them after the contest. My family is my best friends. But I wasn’t prepared to win. I was so young. I don’t think my brain was fully developed; it was so hard to take it all in.
Langland: I placed the Olympics and medaling up on this huge pedestal and when I didn’t do that, it made me rethink where the Olympics stands with my other accolades.
Gerard: Four years ago, Hailey had to be on the podium, and it was stressful for her. It didn’t work out for her at the Olympics doing it that way, I think because of how much pressure she put on herself and how seriously she made it all.
Anderson: It’s such a cool opportunity to experience the Olympics together as a couple. That companionship was so nice for Tyler and me in Pyeongchang. But it’s challenging to deal with your relationship on top of all the stress of competing, to find that ebb and flow of support for each other.
Langland: We’re so lucky in those moments to be able to talk to someone who really understands. It’s not like talking to a coach or my dad who doesn’t really know because they’re not in the exact same position we are in.
Gerard: Most guys don’t get to have their girlfriends with them at contests, competing with them. For me to have that experience where Hailey and I get to travel around together is awesome.
After the Games
Despite winning gold in Pyeongchang, Gerard spent the next few months on a media tour feeling out of sorts. Langland struggled to accept her Olympic results. She couldn’t let herself off the hook for not achieving her goal of returning home with a medal.
Jen: From the time Red won until we went on a family vacation that June, he was not himself. He didn’t know how to deal with winning [the Olympics], and he was not happy.
Conrad: He was overwhelmed by it all, and I remember there was criticism and jokes from comedy shows about us partying, that we were all partying.
Jen: I was not shot gunning beers at 8:30 in the morning. That all got blown out of proportion.
Gerard: The media part was hard, going back and forth to New York and LA and all the interviews. I was like, the only reason I’m here is because I snowboard, and I haven’t snowboarded in a month and a half. That was hard for me.
Langland: I was pretty hung up on the Olympics, and it took me a couple years to get over it. I don’t know when, but something switched. I started to rethink how I wanted to show my snowboarding and how I wanted to show myself to the world.
Gerard: Things changed for me, too. I started to get that more competitive side of me, which I didn’t know I had. I found out how much I enjoyed being on the podium. I even started to enjoy interviews, going back and forth from New York and the people you meet and the experiences you have. It’s been a new step in my life. I realized you get this opportunity to put snowboarding and yourself on a good platform and you don’t want to make yourself or snowboarding look bad.
Langland: We influence each other for sure. We pick and pull from each other when we need it. Red will make it apparent when he’s like, ‘I know you can do this,’ and I need that push. Or Red will get way too stressed out and I will reel him in and say, ‘Remember, this is supposed to be fun.’ It’s a good balance. We’ve figured out what works for ourselves and what works for each other.
Jen: Red’s really matured. He’s started to embrace it all and see that, ‘This is my time.’ I think he feels a responsibility to his teammates and to the sport and understands it’s a short window and he needs to make the most of it.
Langland: I’ve learned life is so short, and I have an incredible opportunity to be on TV showing my snowboarding, so I just want to make it as fun as possible. It didn’t make me happy when I didn’t meet my expectations, and the pressure I put on myself brought my snowboarding down a couple levels and messed with my head.
The COVID-19 pandemic hit halfway through the 2022 Olympic cycle and shut down almost all snowboard contests for nearly two years. In early March, when borders began to close, the couple was in Canada filming in the backcountry, something they both plan to do more of in the future, post-Beijing.
Langland: When we first heard the borders were closing, we thought it’d just be a couple weeks and we’d wait it out. But the next morning, we picked up and left. It was super spontaneous. We got to Portland at 1 a.m., went to sleep and woke up to texts and calls from our friends and parents saying they shut down the borders. We stayed at Red’s house in Tahoe from March and into April.
Gerard: It was cabin fever.
Langland: Two years before the shutdown, I had my first shoulder surgery, and it took me out for nine months throughout the summer. The following year, I had the exact same surgery because I re-injured my right shoulder. That prepared me for the pandemic. It did not prepare Red or [his brother] Kai. It was funny to see them freak out, us being stuck in the same house for a month.
Jen: Red had his first surgery that year, too [in August 2020].
Langland: It was nice to be there for him and see him go through the rehab process and lend advice. I never get to spend time at home. And then a few months later, I got hurt again, at X Games [in January 2021]. It was the first contest [after the shutdown]. I went down in my last practice lap and dislocated my elbow, so I didn’t get to compete.
Michelle: I think after that injury, Hailey realized she wants to be more present. She was in a funk where she didn’t want to disappoint anyone. I told her, you just need to please yourself and satisfy what you want in life. I think that clicked. She told me, ‘I just want snowboarding to be fun again.’
Gerard: Taking advantage of the moment has been the name of the game the past two years. We’re here now. Do the best you can, and who knows what is going to happen tomorrow.
Their second chance at the five-ring circus
On Jan. 9 in Mammoth Mountain, Calif., Gerard and Langland were officially named to the 2022 U.S. Olympic team, where they will both compete in slopestyle and big air. But this time, their only goal is one they share: No matter the result, enjoy the experience.
Gerard: I went into this season trying to snowboard as much as I can. We had a fun early season in Europe, and everyone was learning so many new tricks, it made me feel like a kid again.
Langland: I thought this year would be a cakewalk compared to the first time I qualified for the team because that was super stressful. But this time is just as nerve-wracking because of COVID and all the protocols. It’s not just me focusing on my snowboarding.
Gerard: I’m trying to make the most of contests now. And when I’m practicing, I try to focus a little more.
Langland: My goal for this season is to get redemption for the last Olympics. It’s about me landing my dream run. That’s all I want to do in Beijing, land the run I want to land. For me, that would be a huge comeback story.
Gerard: It’s cool watching her now. Winning’s not everything. She wants to do good, just as she did four years ago, but she’s also taking it one step at a time. It’s not eyes set on the prize right away. The Olympics isn’t everything. For her to take a step back and look at it from a different angle is pretty cool. For me, this time my eyes are open. I know what’s coming.
Jen: It’s also harder in some ways because he feels the pressure of it now. Maybe he and Hailey have switched mindsets, and that could be good for both of them. I think Hailey rides much better when she is loose and less stressed. And Red is better when he’s focused.
Langland: I feel a lot more confident in my riding compared to last time. And I know that no matter what happens, it will be an experience I’ll never forget.
Gerard: I’m looking forward to going to the Olympics, but to be honest, I’m nervous and scared. It’s a crazy place over there and it’s going to be weird not having my family. There’s a trust level there. But having Hailey there will be massive. I’ve been so incredibly lucky to have her by my side at contests. I’m with her 320 days a year, and I am so lucky for it.
Langland: I enjoy being social around the Olympic village and it’s sad we won’t have that option. But although it’s not the experience we had last time, going to the opening ceremony and trading pins with everyone, we’ll at least have each other.