No this isn’t a belated April Fool’s joke. The snowboard and ski slopestyle events may actually be dropped from the next winter Olympics, having been labelled “too exciting” by a senior International Olympic Committee (IOC) official.
In an interview with Associated Press, Lars Engebretsen, the head of scientific activities at the Olympic governing body’s medical department, said that the number of injuries in the Sochi 2014 events was “unacceptably high”. This, he said, meant that while “slopestyle is exciting [...] it has just become, right now anyway, too exciting.”
Right now the injury rate as it was in Sochi was too high to be a sport that we have in the Olympics
I know right? The idea that a sport could somehow be “too exciting” sounds completely ridiculous, but Engebresten was being perfectly serious when he suggested that slopestyle may be cut.
He explained: “Right now the injury rate as it was in Sochi was too high to be a sport that we have in the Olympics” he said, adding that there was “potential” for the sport to lose its Olympic spot because of safety concerns.
Although the good doctor didn’t give any stats on the numbers of injuries, there were several high profile incidents at the Games. Torstein Horgmo broke his collarbone, Sarka Panchocova slammed so hard her helmet cracked and of course Shaun White pulled out of slopestyle, citing concerns that the course was dangerous.
Was Sochi more dangerous than normal?
Of course those who follow slopestyle events regularly will know that unfortunately injuries like Torstein’s happen occasionally. They are also not nearly as bad as the injuries that happen during some other, more established Olympic disciplines – at Vancouver 2010 a Georgian athlete was killed while competing in the luge.
Worse injuries happen in other more established disciplines. At Vancouver 2010 a Georgian athlete was killed while competing in the luge.
And with the exception of Shaun none of the riders Mpora talked to while we were out at the games considered the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park more dangerous than normal.
As Sage Kotsenburg – the eventual gold medallist – put it when he read the media storm about the state of the course:
“We hear the sochi course is dangerous”yea X Games is all lollipops and unicorns the whole way down we aren’t used to dangerous courses haha
— sage kotsenburg (@sagekotsenburg) February 4, 2014
But there is a danger that opinions like Engebretsen’s will add to the perception which already exists in some quarters of the mainstream media that slopestyle is inherently unsafe.
What does this mean for slopestyle?
This may lead to added pressure for the IOC and the International Ski Federation (FIS) which governs the sport at the Olympics to do something about it. Engebretsen’s suggested solution was for slopestyle to be changed in time for Pyeongchang.
“I can say what I feel,” he said. “The sport should change, otherwise we shouldn’t have it.” Of course the idea of running a neutered version of a slopestyle event in four year’s time will cause howls of protest from snowboarders and skiers around the world.
Engebretsen’s suggested solution was for slopestyle to be changed in time for Pyeongchang. “The sport should change, otherwise we shouldn’t have it.”
We’re all for the safety first approach, but surely giving out Olympic medals for riding a course that’s smaller than the likes of the X Games course would be pretty pointless?
Thankfully for snowboarders and skiers Engebretsen went on to say that he thinks it’s unlikely that the IOC will follow his recommendations to the letter. Slopestyle proved massively popular with TV audiences in Sochi, and for that reason alone the IOC would think twice about scrapping it.
While the doctor’s advice will no doubt be a factor, Engebretsen is not part of the committee which decides which sports to include in the Olympics. And he said his “gut feeling” was that slopestyle would stay as part of the program for the Games for 2018.
However if there are more injuries in Korea, it’s likely that the IOC may feel compelled to take another look at his recommendations. Which could mean the end of Olympic slopestyle as we know it almost before it’s begun!
What do you think, were the Olympic slopestyle events too dangerous? What could be done to make them safer? If they end up being forced to change massively, should slopestyle skiers and snowboarders withdraw from the Olympics completely? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below!