I’m extremely anxious to watch freeskiing and snowboard slopestyle make their Olympic debuts. I certainly believe that the overall effect the Olympics will have on our sports will be a positive one. It will certainly mean bigger endorsements, more sponsors and more participants world wide, and that’s never a bad thing. However, for those that are interested I’d like to take a chance to explain some of the darker sides of the Olympics that the average spectator probably won’t hear about. I think it’s important to know as much as you can to be an informed observer, and that means hearing the good, and the bad. There are concerns about the long-term effect it may have on our sport, the venues themselves, and even the effect the qualifying process will have on the competition itself.
I’ve been envolved in freeskiing since athletes started leaving mogul skiing in 1998 to create something new out from under the authority of the FIS. Freeskiing in part was created because FIS was too busy placing limits, where we didn’t see any, and rules where athletes didn’t want or need them. In the sports infancy it wasn’t uncommon for an athlete to show an “FIS SUCKS’ sticker on their skis. We were rebelling from the organization and it’s antiquated attitude. Fast-forward ten years, FIS is our road to the Olympics, and all seems to be forgiven. “If you can’t beat them, join them” Right? Was there a better way? One thing is for sure, our sport would not exist today if earlier athletes hadn’t rebelled and formed it out from under their control. It’s yet to be seen what the total effect FIS’s involvement in the sport will have down the line. Change is inevitable, my only hope is that the sports roots are remembered, and that the athletes always stand up for what they believe in, and continue to shape the sport into the future.
When thinking of our sports in the Olympics, it would be remiss not to mention the effect the qualifying process will have on the events themselves. The Olympics is widely regarded as the pinnacle of sport, but as it will be in many of these events, the world’s best won’t all be there. In fact, many of the events will have moderate fields by top level competition standards. There are up to 4 spots available for each country in each event, but as is with our sports, a handful of countries have an overwhelming majority of top athletes. For instance, in some events like women’s snowboard halfpipe, the United States may have 8 or more of the top 10 ranked athletes in the world. I struggle thinking that many serious medal contenders have to be left behind. I’m not looking forward to seeing which one of my friends they will be. (Stay tuned, we’ll know in just a few hours.) If they were only from another country, they would very easily meet the qualifying criteria.
Next are the safety concerns, and not just the well-known worries about terrorism and human rights, something as simple as course and athlete safety. Sochi’s tropical climate saw that last years slopestyle Olympic “test event’ was canceled due to lack of snow. At this point there is nothing to give us confidence that Sochi is capable of building a world-class course. How was the build team chosen, and why aren’t they held to the same qualifying process as the athletes? Build teams should be rider ranked based on their past work. Maybe it’s a bit idealistic, but surely the best-ranked builder should get the job. Hopefully the Olympic course will be the best course anyone sees this year, but it’s fingers crossed they can pull it off. As far as athlete safety goes, it was less than a year ago that a friend of mine almost lost his leg after he suffered a fall near Sochi. He broke his leg and was taken to a hospital that didn’t have something as critical as soap or ice. It was days before he was transferred to Germany, were he spent weeks ensuring he’d be able to keep his leg. I know Sochi has come a long way in a year, and that with the Olympics comes national team doctors, but it’s still hard to believe that this is the place the world’s best will converge at the top of the sports world. If you’re planning to travel to Russia in any capacity, my best advice is to buy travel insurance and make sure it includes medical evacuation.
Even given these Olympic dark sides, the good will certainly outweigh the bad. It’s important to support the games for all the positives they will bring our sports. The Olympics will surely give the sports the recognition they deserve, and the money they help bring in, will help ensure that many more athletes get to live their dreams like I have. Friends of mine will have Olympic medals that will help shape the rest of their lives. The Olympics have their dark sides, but they are above all the greatest gathering of nations the world ever sees, and for more than two weeks this February the world will be united in awe and celebration of sport, and that is a wonderful thing.