Multi Sport

Editor’s Letter | The Olympic Issue – February 2018

This month we're focussing on South Korea

A few weeks before Christmas, I did something spectacularly stupid. Or at least, that’s the way it felt as I was flying through the air 20 feet off the ground, my arms flapping wildly and my body twitching like a freshly-landed fish.

I’d been out in Italy checking out the British Olympic ski & snowboard team’s secret weapon – a giant airbag set up on the landing of a jump to reduce the risks when they’re trying new tricks. Like an idiot, I’d allowed myself to be talked into having a go at hitting their absolute beast of a kicker.

“It served as a sobering reminder of the difference in skill level between Olympic athletes and us mere mortals.”

Thankfully, the airbag did its stuff, so when I crash-landed I came to no harm. But the sheer size of the whole thing came as quite a shock. The speed needed to clear it, the height it kicked you up in the air, the distance you travelled. It was all so much bigger than anything I’d ever hit before, and it served as sobering reminder of the difference in skill level between Olympic athletes and us mere mortals.

Matt McCormick sending it over the British Olympic team’s airbag in Mottolino, Italy. Photo: Tristan

If you watch enough top-level skiing or snowboarding, you can become desensitised to just how crazy it is. Riders like Billy Morgan and skiers like Katie Summerhayes make it all look so easy that you can almost start imagining that it is.

There’s a BBC trailer for the Winter Olympics currently running on the radio that describes a double cork 1260, and then says: “For them, it’s just another day in the office”. If their office is a top-storey executive suite, then my sketchy backside 180 attempt was the equivalent of tripping over the doormat downstairs.

It’s worth remembering this while the Winter Olympics is on, because it’s easy to be cynical about the whole thing. Unfortunately, organised sport at the highest level is often a byword for corruption. There are the doping scandals, the dodgy judging calls, and the whole ludicrously expensive legacy issue for host nations (which Mpora’s Stuart Kenny investigates brilliantly in this month’s issue).

When Abi Butcher shot this several years before the games Pyeongchang was already getting excited. But what will the legacy look like? Photo: Abi Butcher

On top of all that, for fans of freestyle skiing and snowboarding, there’s the question of whether these sports should be in the Olympics at all. Is the competitive side of snowboarding or free-skiing a true reflection of the sport?

Do quote-unquote “contest jocks” deserve to be put on a pedestal? Should snowboarding be run by the people behind alpine skiing, with its lycra-loving, gym-bunny culture? Two decades on, the reasons behind Terje Haakonsen’s famous boycott of snowboarding’s first games have not gone away.

“The reasons behind Terje Haakonsen’s boycott of snowboarding’s first games have not gone away.”

The counter-arguments are of course equally well-trodden. There’s little doubt that exposure of the magnitude that only the Olympics can deliver boosts these sports.

It inspires new kids who may never have come across them otherwise, and can act as a gateway drug to all the other, supposedly more purist ways of sliding on snow. And at the very least the meritocratic method of Olympic qualification provides a refreshing antidote to the inexplicable alchemy used to select participants in the X Games, which always seems to prioritise marketability over actual ability.

Naturally in between these two extremes there’s room for plenty of shades of grey. But whichever side of the debate you gravitate towards, the one thing you should never dispute is the sheer ballsiness and insane skill levels of the riders and skiers who take part.

Katie Ormerod, who features as this month’s Big Interview, will sadly no longer compete at the games because of an injury in practise days before the Olympics kicked off. Photo: Christian Pondella/Red Bull Content Pool

I’m writing this on the plane out to Pyeongchang, where news has just come through that Team GB’s Katie Ormerod has broken her heel, ruling her out of the games. The fact that Britain’s best female rider has just smashed herself up on a course that’s been universally praised as excellent tells you everything you need to know about how scary these sports can be.

Regardless of what you think of the double, triple or quadruple corks, the people who pit themselves against those odds in the name of progression deserve our respect. And however sick you are of the corporate sponsorship, the doping scandals or the kleptocrats who seem to run international sport, the riders at the centre of it all are still utterly badass. Which is why we’ve dedicated this entire* issue to them, and to the Winter Olympics.

We hope you like it, and come away feeling as inspired as we have while writing it.

Enjoy the adventure,
– Tristan, Editor-in-Chief

*Not quite the entire issue. For those who don’t like winter sports, there are still a couple of stories that have nothing to do with what’s happening in South Korea.

Read the rest of Mpora’s Olympic Issue here.

You May Also Like:

From Underdogs to Overachievers | The Secret Story Behind Britain’s Winter Olympians

My Life in Pictures | Mike Weyerhauser’s Favourite Historic Photos From the Olympics

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