Time to boycott? Snowboarders in Sochi deserve better.
In case you’ve somehow missed it, horror stories have been pouring out of Sochi on a daily basis, the most recent exposing the sorry state of Sochi’s snowboarding venues.
It all began last week, as riders deemed Sochi’s slopestyle course ‘sketchy’ and ‘dangerous,’ concerns which were soon corroborated by Torstein Horgmo’s Olympics-ending collar bone break during practice, followed by a horrific crash that had Finnish rider Marika Enne carried off of the course on a stretcher, and cemented by Shaun White’s choice to ditch the contest entirely. Slope riders were vocal, and it paid off, as the course underwent a makeover before any medal runs were put down.
Once slopestyle wrapped, the spotlight shifted to the halfpipe and its high-flying fiends as they began to prep for the big show. Almost instantaneously, an influx of issues commanded attention, as Danny Davis, Hannah Teter, Ben Kilner & many more spoke out against the pipe, calling it “garbage” and “crappy” — not quite the Olympic stage anyone hoped for.
Riders, coaches, and media alike have long questioned the FIS and IOC’s decision to forgo hiring industry leader Snow Park Technologies (SPT) to build the Olympic pipe in favor of New Zealand based Development Snowparks. What many see as a scheme to save a dime has had terrible consequences for the halfpipe riders who have pushed themselves physically and mentally, and have no-doubt paid off some serious hospital bills, in an effort to make it to Sochi. Their skills are undoubtedly compromised by such conditions, adding even more irony to the claim that the Olympics will showcase the best snowboarding in the world.
Exhibit A: Taylor Gold posted this Instagram after one disappointing pipe practice:
The stage has been set, the characters cast; you have your villains, the money-hoarding IOC and FIS committees, taking full advantage of our heroes, a soulful gaggle of snowboarders just trying to earn their craft the attention and respect it deserves. The slopestyle course proved highly dangerous; the halfpipe a slushy, sugary mess, complete with bump-ridden transfers. Would this stand if we were talking about figure skaters dealing with slushy ice? Not a chance.
It seems that the situation in Sochi provides a prime opportunity for riders to come together and take a stand against what they clearly see as the mistreatment of themselves and their sport. The Olympics and snowboarding’s relationship has been turbulent since day one, with legendary riders like Terje Haakonsen unflinchingly condemning the whole affair as a scheme by the IOC and its affiliates to get a hold of snowboarding’s demographic and viewers, and at the end of the day, an obscene amount of cash flow. Still, the carrot dangled in front of snowboarding has proved far to tempting to deny, as global recognition, sponsors, national pride, and the idea of winning that prized gold medal stand to be won.
So, now what? The opportunity for a full-on boycott has come and gone, and what we’ve been left with a slew of press conference and social media outbursts that have done little in the way of encouraging any actual chance. Sure, people are mad, and yeah, the pipe cutters had a fire lit under their butts to get the pipe up to par, but finals are still going down (literally, as I write), and the IOC is getting all the viewers it wants. Probably more, considering the uproar over the horrible condition of the pipe. The end result of all this tweeting and scoffing, however? A still slushy pipe, less than stoked competitors, and untainted success for the big wigs in charge.
It seems to me, though I’m no more than a highly opinionated on-looker, that now’s the time for snowboarders to step up and do something. To push back against organizations that seem to be stomping all over them, and, if snowboarding should remain an Olympic sport, demand the same pristine venues guaranteed to athletes in other sports. Snowboarding is on a global stage now, churning out sweethearts daily— Sage Kotsenburg and Jamie Anderson, for starters, and I for one am very happy to have them as faces of slope riding— and the timing could not be better to make the point that snowboarding has been treated by the IOC and FIS like a misbehaving stepchild, an opportunity to save a buck while reaping the benefits of riders’ talent and popularity.
Olympic Halfpipe veteran Steve Fisher hit the nail on the head this morning, tweeting:
These riders fought incredibly hard to make their way onto the Olympic stage, and it has become pointedly clear that they aren’t being shown the appreciation and respect they have undoubtedly earned. The committees in charge are stoked, they’re raking in viewers. Any hope for change sits squarely upon the riders’ shoulders, and here’s hoping the sorry state of Sochi’s halfpipe is just the catalyst to put things in motion.