Olympic qualifier controversy: officials scrap the Breckenridge Grand Prix due to rough weather conditions
Olympic qualifiers took quite an ironic twist this weekend, as the Breckenridge Grand Prix — which was moved from its original Northstar, Tahoe venue to Colorado due to a lack of snow — was cancelled, get this, due to too much snow.
As the weather on Friday verged on the brink of total whiteout, the FIS decided to postpone the scheduled slopestyle finals and reschedule them for Sunday morning. The snow kept on coming, however, and while Friday night’s continuous snowfall turned Breck into a pow fiend’s paradise, the 8 inches of fresh that covered its slopes Saturday morning also messed with the condition of the superpipe. To top it off, the morning was hit hard by 30 to 40 mph winds, making for some seriously dangerous contest conditions. With another round of snow predicted to fall before Sunday, officials made the decision to cancel both halfpipe and slopestyle finals entirely.
Brett Esser shared the above Instagram from Wednesday’s pipe qualifiers, where the weather was tough but manageable. Conditions deteriorated considerably as the week continued…
Once the contest had been effectively scrapped, another highly important issue remained to be addressed: what happens to the riders’ qualifying scores? As one of only five Olympic qualifying events, the points that riders could have earned over this weekend would have had a monumental impact on their Olympic qualifying points, and whether or not they would be making their respective Olympic teams. For example, this weekend was Norwegian rider Kjersti Buaas’ final chance to qualify for Norway’s Olympic team, and had Buaas’ third place qualifying points been counted, she would have earned a spot to Sochi. Jamie Anderson is in a similar situation, and had her first place in qualifiers been counted, she would now have a spot on the US Olympic women’s slopestyle team. Instead, she will still be fighting to qualify in Mammoth next week.
The rider reactions were mixed, as tossing qualifiers was a positive thing for some, but a devastating blow for others. For their part, the women of slopestyle went so far as to petition the FIS jury’s decision to wipe scores, posting a photo on Twitter along with statements from Buaas, who wrote:
— Kjersti Buaas (@kjerstibuaas) January 12, 2014
However, one of the primary issues with taking qualifying results as final scores comes with the fact that many riders aren’t actually putting down their best runs in qualifiers. Often, the best competitors ride conservatively, qualifying lower down in the rankings and saving energy for their finals runs. Consequently, rankings based on qualifying results can definitely be skewed.
Sage Kotsenburg, who is a top contender for the US men’s slopestyle team, responded to the chaotic situation, saying, “Yea, having the Grand Prix cancelled brought a lot of unwanted emotions from everyone, but for some foreigners who I know were counting on this event for their Olympic spot, I think their countries should get behind them and see the result as it is and just let them go if it’s that huge of a deal. I think they are doing 3 events in Mammoth now too… the funny thing is, these foreigners that were banking on this event can’t come to Mammoth because it’s strictly a USA qualifier, which I strongly disagree with. Also, I think this really shows us the current state that competitive snowboarding is in with less than a 1/4 of the entire rider field showing up to the meeting where they decided the outcome of the contest, and then complaining about the outcome. If you really cared you would have been there fighting for your right. I personally am disappointed to see the lack of unity we have in competitive snowboarding these days with having coaches and other people voice riders’ opinions. We riders need to take snowboarding back, the future should be in our hands…”
Greg Bretz and Spencer O’Brien— who qualified 1st and 3rd for their respective finals— took to Twitter to voice their dissatisfaction with how the weekend played out:
— Spencer O’Brien (@spencerobrien) January 11, 2014
Well that could have quite possibly been the biggest waste of a week I’ve ever endured.
— Greg Bretz (@gregbretzz) January 11, 2014
The U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association has now announced plans to replace the scrapped competitions with a U.S. only qualifier at Mammoth Mountain. USSA Vice President Calum Clark notes, “Our focus is on providing athletes with the fairest platform for Olympic qualifying…Mammoth Mountain has been willing to undertake the added burden and we hope that this will be a solution to provide our athletes with a fair pathway to Sochi.” This replacement third qualifier would be a USSA competition, only open to US riders, and its addition to this week’s Mammoth Grand Prix line up would mean three back-to-back contests for American riders.
It will be an interesting, intense, and decisive week of contests in Mammoth, culminating in the announcement of the US snowboarding team on Sunday, January 19. Here are the rider’s current standings for US Olympic team qualification:
1. Greg Bretz: 1,800
2. Taylor Gold: 1,600
3. Ben Ferguson: 1000
4. Louie Vito: 900
5. Benji Farrow: 860
6. Danny Davis: 810
1. Kelly Clark: 2,000
2. Arielle Gold: 1,400
3. Gretchen Bleiler: 1,000
4. Kaitlyn Farrington: 950
5. Elena Hight: 850
6. Ellery Hollingsworth: 760
1. Chas Guldemond: 1,800
2. Shaun White: 1,320
3. Sage Kotsenburg: 1,250
4. Brandon Davis: 1,100
5. Spencer Link: 790
6. Ryan Stassel: 780
1. Jamie Anderson: 1,800
2. Ty Walker: 1,500
3. Jessika Jenson: 1,400
4. Jordie Karlinski: 1,000
5. Phoebe Novello: 810
6. Karly Shorr: 790
What do you think? Let us know in the comments section below…