With Pierre Vaultier’s win in the men’s Snowboard Cross on Tuesday, freestyle snowboarding’s involvement in the 2014 Winter Olympics came to and end. Following the sports uneasy relationship with the establishment and the IOC, there were some who questioned whether it should have ever been there at all.
After 10 days of incredible action it’s clear that the snowboard halfpipe and debut slopestyle provided some of the highlights highlights out in Russia, but what about the rest of the snowboarding world?
Olympic Run Up
In the run up to the games the old debates had been reawakened about snowboarding’s place at the Olympics. Snowboarding deity Terje Haakonsen had boycotted the Nagano games back in ’98 when he was at the height of his powers because he disagreed with the halfpipe debuting in the Olympics. 16 years on
There’s just no respect for the history and culture of snowboarding at all. We don’t need FIS or the IOC. We can handle snowboarding ourselves.
His opinion wasn’t universally held with returning champions and Olympic newbies equally hyped about representing their nation and their sport on the grand stage. Shaun White was hoping to win his third consecutive gold in the halfpipe. White spent a year preparing for the games, something he saw as a chance to cement his legacy and when speaking in his revealing Russia Calling documentary he was fully committed to the Olympic mantra of faster, higher, stronger, adding ‘and bigger, way bigger‘.
For Britain’s Jamie Nicholls it was the first time his riding had received so much attention and he loved it.
Sochi Slopestyle Controversy
Upon arrival the course in Sochi attracted plenty of heat, it was supposed to be too big and too dangerous, designed with the TV audiences in mind rather than the safety of the riders.
Torstein Horgmo pulled out due to injury with Shaun White following shortly after to avoid doing himself any damage in order to focus on the halfpipe.
The motives for the American’s withdrawal were widely speculated upon. Brandon Davis, who missed out on a chance to compete in the slopestyle because White pulled out so late was unimpressed, telling Time:
“I should be there, but Shaun decided he didn’t want to do it. It’s not a big deal for him. But for most people, the Olympics is a whole other level. It could have kicked started my career a bit, and gotten the ball rolling. But Shaun kind of dropped out like it’s nothing.”
Other snowboarders speculated that White had pulled out rather than compete in a competition he was unlikely to win, including Canadian, Max Parrot who tweeted:
Mr. White… Its easy to find excuses to pull out of a contest when you think you can’t win…
And his teammate Sebastian Toutant adding:
“Shaun knows he won’t be able to win the slopes, that’s why he pulled out. He’s scared!”
Both tweets were quickly deleted unsurprisingly.
But by the time Saturday’s final rolled around the shapers seemed to have got things up to standard and the twelve finalists laid down a couple of hours of stunning riding.
Although the UK’s Aimee Fuller wasn’t amongst the medals she was still over the moon to be there. She told Cooler:
Whitelines called the men’s and women’s finals:
And former American Olympic snowboarder, Todd Richards, was pretty stoked at slopestyle’s first appearance in Olympics too.
The day after the men’s final Jamie Anderson took gold in the ladies competition in another exhibition of style and skill. Jenny Jones took bronze for the UK, Britain’s first ever medal on snow. Her initial reaction was roughly:
It would appear she was pretty chuffed to be there despite having already being a double Winter X-Games champion in previous years, she then posted a slightly more composed but equally ecstatic post on instagram.
An Amazing Halfpipe Final
The halfpipe competition followed in the week after. Again the conditions were criticised with legendary American rider, Gretchen Bleiler supporting the call for a boycott of the competition with the multiple X-Games champion tweeting:
“It is every athlete’s right to receive the best possible canvas on which to display his or her talent”
— Gretchen Bleiler (@GretchenBleiler) February 11, 2014
Fortunately for us at home the competition went ahead and no one involved fell foul of the pipe. Though it did play a part in proceedings many of the best riders were able to stick their runs down and what followed was a tense, exciting spectacle that enraptured the watching world. Iouri Podladtchikov’s reaction on the podium showed how much it meant to him:
iPod’s victory came as something of a surprise, even to the Swiss himself:
He beat the defending Olympic champion and the reigning X-Games champion, Danny Davis. Davis had been somewhat ambivalent towards to the Olympics despite performing well to qualify, telling the New York Times that he wanted a night to consider whether he wanted to go at all. Davis was disappointed with his performance at the games, but was incredibly positive about the experience and its impact for snowboarding: