Snowboarders seek more control over Olympic slopestyle
AP National Writer
A group of snowboarders led by one of the sport’s godfathers has signed a petition asking for more say in how slopestyle will be run at the Olympics if it is approved for the 2014 Sochi Games.
The petition opposes the international ski federation (FIS) introducing a new slopestyle schedule to create Olympic qualifying events. These concerns mirror many of the same arguments that were made when the first snowboarding events were first added to the Olympics in 1998.
At that time, Terje Haakonsen was widely considered the best and most influential snowboarder in the world but he boycotted the Olympics, in part because the International Olympic Committee let FIS run the sport’s Olympic program instead of the snowboarders’ own federation. He said he’s trying to prevent an overcrowding of the schedule, the likes of which he thinks exists in halfpipe now.
“It really takes a toll on the riders,” said Haakonsen, who in 2002 helped create the TTR World Snowboard Tour, which sanctions about 200 international competitions and has credibility with riders worldwide. “Plus, it makes snowboarding hard for the media and the general public to follow with so many different events out there that aren’t connected together. The lack of unity waters down the sport.”
Many snowboarders have long believed placing the sport in the Olympics stole some of its heart. Snowboarding, the critics said, was supposed to be about nonconforming individualism, not part of a multibillion-dollar enterprise.
But much of that criticism has been blunted over the past 10 years, as two-time Olympic champion Shaun White has become a household name and snowboarding has become very much a part of the mainstream at resorts around the world.
Haakonsen has softened his stance, too, saying the huge amount of money poured into the sport has opened doors for young, promising riders. Meanwhile, he says, there’s still a large, free-riding, backslope element to the sport that even the best riders can still do for fun.
“There is still a ‘soul’ of the sport left, for sure,” Haakonsen said in an e-mail interview with The Associated Press. “The soul is always going to be there. Take, for example, a kid in Helsinki or in Michigan who hit rails in their backyard just because they have fun doing it. You would be hard pressed to find any rider out there who doesn’t say the best time on their boards is out free riding or riding pow(der) with their friends.”
Slopestyle is the closest competitive thing left in snowboarding that resembles free riding. Riders maneuver their way down the mountain, sliding over rails and bumps and jumps. The IOC, in its never-ending quest to appeal to younger viewers, is considering adding this last bastion of the so-called “lifestyle sport,” to the program. Among the benefits could be to get White – one of the most popular figures at the Olympics – into a second event.
The petition is backed by the TTR tour, which has no interest in seeing its events undermined by a new circuit of FIS events that would likely come about. But this is also the next chapter in a long-running philosophical debate about who should be running the sport – the riders themselves, or the FIS, which is mainly about skiing and has often been accused of treating snowboarding like a little brother.
“Snowboarding is no longer the kid brother in the Olympic Winter Games,” the petition says.
Among the points raised in their petition, the “Snowboarding Olympic 180 Charter”:
-All snowboard events and organizations “must listen to the driving force of our sport: the athletes.”
-Snowboarders want a transparent process in all decisions affecting their lives and occupation.
-Snowboarding cannot reach its full potential with conflicting dates of major snowboarding events.
Among those signing the petition are Andy Finch of the U.S. and Kjersti Buass of Norway, who won the bronze medal in halfpipe at the 2006 Olympics.
White, who won two Olympic gold medals in halfpipe and would likely compete in slopestyle in Sochi, was not on the petition.
“If snowboarding is run under the terms we propose in this charter, then for sure, I would back the inclusion of slopestyle in the Olympics,” Haakonsen said. “That’s, basically, the endgame with this Olympic Charter. And, if asked, I would, along with riders and other great minds in snowboarding, submit a solid proposal for Olympic qualifications for slopestyle.”
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