Safety in Sochi: Snowboard Slopestyle

Safety in Sochi: Snowboard Slopestyle



When one of the best snowboarder of all time drops out of an Olympic event because he is worried about making it through the course without injuring himself, it may be time to consider the reality that there is a problem. Shaun White recently released a statement explaining that he would not be competing in Sochi’s inaugural snowboard slopestyle competition because of the potential risk of injury that would affect his chances of bringing home a third-straight gold medal in the snowboard halfpipe.

“After much deliberation with my team, I have made the decision to focus solely on trying to bring home the third straight gold medal in halfpipe for Team USA.The difficult decision to forego slopestyle is not one I take lightly as I know how much effort everyone has put into holding the slopestyle event for the first time in Olympic history, a history I had planned on being a part of,” said White in his statement.

As this is the first Winter Olympics to hold a snowboard Slopestyle event, its reception this week is vitally important to its acceptance at future Winter Olympic Games. It hasn’t gotten off to a good start. Although White was not the favorite to win the event, as his performance at past X-Games slopestyle competitions has been less than dominating, his name on the scoreboard is still essential to drawing attention and viewers. Having an intimidated White dropping out in the very first holding of snowboard slopestyle in the Olympics could very well have an impact on the Games’ organizers when they decide whether it should be kept. The International Olympic Committee is already hesitant enough when adding new events to the Games and the negative press resulting from an array of injuries coming out of this particular event before the competition even officially started may cause the red tape to thicken in the future.

Although White had not taken a serious spill in practice runs, others were not so fortunate. Marike Enne of Finland fell on the final jump during a practice round and had to be carried off the course in a stretcher. This came after Torstein Horgmo of Norway, who was actually medal favorite for the event, broke his collarbone on one of the course’s more difficult jumps. A certain amount of danger and challenge must be included when designing a slopestyle course, since viewers thrive off of the death-defying hangtime and rail-grinds that seem just downright insane, but athlete safety may have fallen to the wayside just a little too much this time around. Really, it is just poor timing for the course builders to create such treacherous terrain. Wet conditions have contributed to the overall danger of the course, but the builders should have definitely been just a little more conservative for the event’s Olympic debut.

Many of the snowboarders competing in the event are holding strong to their claims that the course really is not that dangerous and even though it is challenging, that is the point of the sport.

“If you look from here, the landings are steep and good,” said Canadian Mark McMorris, who had already broken a rib at the X-Games late last month. “But the takeoffs are really built kind of obnoxiously tall. But it rides well and I’m doing the tricks I want to do, so I have no complaints. … It’s not dangerous at all, I don’t think.”

What we see when we are watching the event is the final product of months and months of training and practice. These athletes have already tried and tested their moves using trampolines, foam pits, airbags, and other kinds of practice before they even hit the snow to practice them. By the time they reach the Olympics, the tricks that we see are basically made up of a deep breath and then muscle memory. For this reason, many riders claim that the difficulty of the course is not that big of a deal and the danger that we perceive is misguided.

What I reason out of these statements from the riders, though, is that this should be even more reason to take a doubtful glance at the challenge the course provides. The reason being, if these snowboarders have been practicing nearly non-stop for months, then the fact that riders are breaking bones and dropping out of the competition already due to practice runs demonstrates just how large a risk they are put up against. The sport is obviously dangerous and that is something that every single rider competing must accept long before they decide they want to train for the Olympics, but if these are the kind of results coming out of just practice runs, I can’t even imagine the potential for injury when they are pushing themselves to their physical maximums when the gold medal is on the line. We have yet to see what this weekend will bring when the medal matches are performed, but the Olympic organizers should be crossing their fingers that riders can avoid serious injury, otherwise this could be a one-and-done for snowboard slopestyle at the Winter Olympics.

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Steven Criss

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