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Who is Spencer O'Brien?

Spencer O'Brien
Getty Images

Who is Spencer O'Brien?

Plagued by rheumatoid arthritis before the Sochi Olympics, O'Brien is back to her winning ways in snowboard slopestyle.

Name: Spencer O'Brien
Country: Canada
Age: 29 (turns 30 on 2/2/18)
Sport: Snowboarding
Disciplines: Slopestyle, Big Air
2016/17 WST slopestyle ranking: 10th
2016/17 WST big air ranking: 6th

Accolades

  • 5-time X Games slopestyle medalist (1 gold, 1 silver, 3 bronze)
  • 2013 Burton U.S. Open slopestyle champion
  • 5-time Dew Tour slopestyle winner

Olympic experience
O'Brien competed in the inaugural Winter Olympic slopestyle contest in 2014. She reached the final but then fell on both of her runs and finished 12th. It was later revealed that she had been struggling with rheumatoid arthritis during the lead-up to the Olympics.

Olympic outlook
In slopestyle, O'Brien is a medal contender for PyeongChang. Among the women she'll be competing against are Austria's Anna Gasser and the U.S. trio of Jamie Anderson, Julia Marino and Hailey Langland. O'Brien will also compete in the new Olympic event of big air but doesn't have as much experience in that discipline.

Signature
Smooth style is a hallmark of O'Brien's slopestyle runs. She can also land technical tricks and has a unique version of a frontside 720 that she spins off her toes instead of her heels.

Snowboard beginnings
O'Brien started skiing at a young age before eventually switching to snowboarding when she was 11. After learning how to ride from her family, O'Brien began competing in halfpipe contests and once had dreams of making the Olympics. But after her local mountain stopped maintaining a halfpipe, she was forced to transition to slopestyle instead, which was not yet an Olympic discipline.

Road to the Olympics
For more than a decade, O'Brien has been one of the preeminent riders in women's slopestyle snowboarding, earning podium finishes at major contests such as X Games, the Burton U.S. Open and Dew Tour. In 2011, the IOC officially approved slopestyle as a new Olympic discipline for Sochi 2014, giving O'Brien an opportunity to reignite her dream.

But the year before the Olympics proved to be a trying ordeal as she dealt with pain, stiffness and mysterious joint injuries.

"It got so bad that I couldn't even get myself out of bed in the morning or walk down a set of stairs," O'Brien told Canadian media. "I literally looked like an 80-year-old woman."

Less than two months before the start of the Olympics, she was diagnosed with early onset rheumatoid arthritis at age 25.

She started taking medication but kept her medical condition under wraps for several years. She finished 12th in her Olympic slopestyle debut after falling on both runs during the final in Sochi.



Spencer O'Brien

Spencer O'Brien has become a regular on slopestyle podiums once again. Credit: FIS/Snowjam.cz

Since Sochi
O'Brien has told media that she now has her arthritis under control, and her results have backed that up.

In January 2016, O'Brien won a gold medal in slopestyle at X Games Aspen for the first time in her career, nine years after making her debut at the event. In December 2017, she topped the podium at Dew Tour — her first victory at that contest in nearly six years.

Off the snow
O'Brien has First Nations heritage and supports that community through charitable initiatives, including donating equipment to the First Nations Snowboard Team.

Social media
Instagram: @spencerobrien
Twitter: @spencerobrien
Facebook: @spencerobriensnow

Snowboarding

Get to know the stars of snowboarding.

Halfpipe:

Kelly Clark (USA) | Ben Ferguson (USA) | Ayumu Hirano (JPN) | Scotty James (AUS) | Chase Josey (USA) | Chloe Kim (USA) | Maddie Mastro (USA) | Iouri Podladtchikov (SUI) |
Shaun White (USA)

Slopestyle/Big Air:

Jamie Anderson (USA) | Chris Corning (USA) |
Anna Gasser (AUT) | Red Gerard (USA) | Marcus Kleveland (NOR) | Hailey Langland (USA) | Julia Marino (USA) | Mark McMorris (CAN) | Silje Norendal (NOR) | Spencer O'Brien (CAN) | Max Parrot (CAN) | Stale Sandbech (NOR)

Boardercross:

Lindsey Jacobellis (USA) | Eva Samkova (CZE)

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