Having just returned from Vancouver and beaten off his jetlag, Onboard Ed Danny Burrows writes his wrap-up of the 2010 Winter Olympic snowboarding.
It was only a week before the Olympic pipe finals that I got the invite to attend the games in Vancouver but the answer as to whether I was going or not was obvious – hell yeah!
Apart from it being the Olympics, which you don’t get the chance of attending that often it was also going to be the climax of what had been unquestionably the biggest build-up to a pipe event in snowboarding history.
The road to Olympics had been long and arduous and with the thrills there had been tragedy. Shaun White had put his cards on the table back at the NZ Open when he revealed the fruits of his labour in his private pipe in Silverton, Colorado and set a seemingly impassable bar for other Olympic hopefuls with his back to back doubles.
Kevin Pearce fell victim to the trick when he caught an edge training in Utah over the Christmas holidays and suffered a serious head injury from which he is still recovering (everyone's thoughts are with him and plenty of runs in the event were dedicated to him too). Pundits outside the circle of snowboarding, lead by USA Today’s Christine Brennan were asking whether snowboarding’s progression had taken a step to far and were calling for the banning of the double cork at the games. She was later subjected to serious flack from snowboarders and the double cork remaining in the arsenal of a growing number of riders.
Danny Davis, too, was injured after a crash on a quad bike after celebrating his victory at the Dew Tour thus eliminating the second of Shaun’s main contenders for gold.
It was not until mid January that teams were finally chosen for both the men’s and women’s pipe and many of those selected headed for Michigan to train. At the time, Vancouver was having its worst season for snow in recorded history and the venue for the pipe on Cypress was green.
Over the next weeks snow was flown in by helicopter and a monstrous amount of dry ice and salt were used to maintain the imported snow. Hardly environmentally friendly but how many snowboard events are?
Practice days in Cypress were subsequently cut from five to three days and even then the condition of the pipe was less than perfect. With the warm weather and rain the walls were crumbling and riders were having a hard time with speed. That said, Shaun turned up to practice and put down the first double cork in the testing conditions. At this point it was questionable whether the pipe would be ready for the big event.
The night before the contest the thermometer finally dropped and the outlook for the coming week was for clear skies and freezing temperatures.
Vancouver was already in the grip of snowboard fever and with Maelle Ricker taking gold at the women’s boardercross a sea of red and white maple leaf flags flowed through the streets of the city into the wee hours. In fact Vancouver was in a state of perpetual carnival, with streets pedestrianised, impromptu games of street hockey sprouting wherever there was space and everywhere amped kids rooting for their national teams. Xenophobia has little or nothing to do with snowboarding but then the competitors themselves cared little about national pride and more about personal achievement.
Tickets for the men’s halfpipe were the most sought after of all tickets at the games exchanging hands for over $1000 on the day and everywhere you looked there were references to snowboarding. All the faults of the Olympics aside there was no question that snowboarding as an industry was not doing badly out of the affair.
Sadly, due to the extraneous weather conditions standing room at the stadium was cancelled but still there were plenty of folks who by hook or by crook were able to get into the stands.
There is no need to go into results for either the men’s or women’s contests as they have been worn to the point of tedium already but there were a few riders who deserve a special mention.
Kazuhiro Kokubo had already made a name for himself at the Olympics for dismounting the plane in Vancouver with his shirt out, pants low and tie wound down like a school rebel. He was forced to apologies to Japan for his appearance but later went on the defensive saying that he was not going to change his appearance for what in his eyes was just another contest. He was without question the snowboarders’ choice of rider from the pipe contest going huge, with ample servings of style – he looked like he was loving the ride. Iouri Podladtchikov, too, was impressive but alas didn’t make the cut sliding into fourth place overall.
In the women’s event, aside from Torah Bright’s dominance, the girls from China really made a good impression with their tight, styled out spins. According to rumor Jiayu Liu and her teammate Sun had been plucked from gymnast and martial arts schools to compete in snowboarding but there was nothing forced about their riding to back up these claims.
Queralt Castallet was also riding hard but after scorpioning on a 5 in practice before the semis she was knocked unconscious and sent off to hospital for observation by the course management much to her protestation. She is still young though so expect to see much more from her in the next four years in the lead up to the Winter Games in Sochi, Russia in 2014.
Snowboarding didn’t fail to disappoint as the enfant terrible of the Games. Scotty Lago went out, medal in hand, and caused a little discomfort to his national team and the Olympics by appearing in pictures at a party with his medal dangling at his crotch with a girl paying her respects. Screw the politics he deserved a party and sending him home for what in snowboarding is an everyday occurrence was horse crap. But then I guess you could argue that this was no ordinary occasion.
All power to you Scotty you deserved a night out on the tiles and what is there not to celebrate about winning bronze!
Go snowboarding. Go all those riders that were there. Screw nationality. What ever your politics may be about the Olympics the pipe contest for the riders was for them and about them. The rest was all just the structure that allowed them to be there.