When Emmy-winning sportscaster Bob Costas casually dismissed the addition of slopestyle snowboarding and skiing to the Olympic Games — referring to them as “invented” sports in an interview on the “Today” show, Jan. 6 — the snowboarding and freeskiing communities took notice.
“I think the president of the IOC should be Johnny Knoxville,” Costas told NBC’s Matt Lauer, “because basically this stuff (slopestyle) is just ‘Jackass’ stuff that they invented and called Olympic sports.”
Later, on “The Dan Patrick Show,” Costas claimed he had spoken in a joking tone that was as much about pointing out how out of touch he was as it was a shot at the new Olympic disciplines. Still he failed to recognize them, and — intentionally or not — trivialized the new disciplines, comparing them to a show that featured people riding shopping carts off of ramps into bushes or getting punched in the crotch, among other stunts.
With his comments in mind, the Summit Daily spoke with U.S. team pro snowboarder Eric Willett and team freeskier Emilia Wint — both of whom failed to qualify for Sochi due to injuries — to find out a little bit about what goes into training for their sports and to clarify some popular misconceptions.
“I can see how people would think it’s not really a sport,” Willett said. “I don’t think they really understand how much work and effort and time you put into it. It’s definitely year round.”
“It’s really no different from any other sport,” Wint said. “You’re training every single day.”
Both described developing any new trick as a meticulous process.
“You can’t just huck yourself and hope you land it,” Willet said.
“All the risks are so calculated,” Wint said. “We take our tricks from mind to the trampoline to the foam pit to the pool. It’s all planned out.”
For each athlete the process is a little different. For the 26-year-old Willett, it all happens on snow. Wint, 19, on the other hand, prefers to start on a trampoline.
Others, like Shaun White, may opt to focus on landing in giant inflated airbags. It’s as much about personal preference as it is accessibility.
“When I was learning my tricks, there was really no option,” Willett said. “I learned all of my tricks on snow at Breckenridge.” But now indoor facilities, like Woodward at Copper, have given young athletes more exposure to training on trampolines and in foam pits.
“That’s probably the safest way,” Willet said, though he still focuses his training on snow. “I actually really suck at trampolines in the first place. I would just much rather do it on snow.”
Willett also prefers to avoid training on airbags, saying the landings can still be very hard. “I broke my thumb in an airbag, and needed surgery.”
While Willet may take more of an old-school approach with his on-snow focus, he described athletes who get started on trampolines as extremely well trained. “Their air awareness and the way they do tricks — you can tell they learned on a trampoline, and when they take it to snow it’s just perfect.”
The trampoline is where Wint keeps her training focused. “One thing I do a lot is get on the trampolines and practice that trick over and over.”
Regardless of venue, both athletes said perfecting their craft is all about repetition and gradual progression.
Willett explained how he built up to a double cork 1080 — two flips and three full spins.
“I was doing a 540 (one and a half spins) over and over again,” he said, to a point where he would perform the same move or half the trick twice on consecutive jumps. Eventually, he would combine the two halves of the trick into one jump.
“Start small and work your way up,” he said.
For Wint it is the same process — eventually a 360 becomes a 720, then a 900 (two and a half rotations).
“You take it day by day. You have a certain number of tricks you want to learn,” Willet said.
And while the ski season ends for most of us in April, for Willett and Wint it’s a year-round sport. They’ll travel to Mount Hood, Ore., British Columbia and as far as New Zealand to chase the snow throughout the year.
As to injuries, it’s just a part of the sport and they don’t dwell on it.
“Snowboarding is a big mental game. If you focus on crashing you’ll crash,” Willett — who broke his back earlier this season — said. With practice the risk of injury is lower, but it’s still there. For Willett it’s an acceptable risk.
“Anyone could get in a car crash, but you still drive. I definitely can’t let an injury affect me. I’m going to have to go and do that trick I broke my back on.”
Wint, who tore her ACL for the second time, just ignores the potential for injury and focuses on prevention. “I don’t think about getting injured when I’m skiing. There’s training in the gym to prevent injuries.”
Now eight weeks removed from his injury at December’s Grand Prix at Copper, Willett is already looking to get back on snow, and may do so in time for the U.S. Open snowboarding competition in Vail in March.
“Once I get the back brace off, my back will be completely healed. They said I could get back on my board in March, hopefully.”
As to the U.S. Open: “I’m going to try. I told my doctor that is a goal I have. I’m not going to count myself out just yet.”
Wint, who was injured in November, will have to wait till next season. She’s currently rehabbing at the U.S. team facility in Park City, Utah.