Although the Opening Ceremony isn’t until tomorrow, snowboard slopestyle competition began today (Thursday). Qualifiers selected the 8 men and women who would ride directly into finals and not have to compete in the same-day-as-finals semifinals used in Olympic competition.
The course today was great. Any concerns about takeoff angles and landing heights have been alleviated by course builders who are clearly listening to the riders. The course is big–even bigger than X Games–and likely bigger than many of these athletes have ridden. But the problems from Tuesday: too-steep, poppy takeoffs, landings that were much too low and created a step-down effect and sticky rails, have been worked on and the riders today were happy. As coach Mike Jankowski put it, “If I want to know if the course is good, I look at the riding. If the best riders aren’t throwing the best tricks, I know it’s a bad course. But today we saw multiple triple corks, double corks. We saw the best tricks in snowboarding. And it’s only qualifiers.”
The crowd was also better than I expected for a pre-Opening Ceremony event in the mountains. We’ll see if the stands are full for finals on Saturday. The stands are big. If you haven’t seen a photo of them, I’ll try and take one at practice today.
(BTW … Security up here is tight. I could likely drive from my hotel to the venue in 10 minutes. It takes me about an hour and a half to do so via Olympic transport. I walk to the media center (15 minutes from my hotel), wait for a bus (depends), ride to the venue (20), get off the bus and go through airport-style security (15) while the bus and driver do the same (an extra 10), get back on the bus and continue to the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park (10) and then get off the bus and walk to the media center/event course.)
The men’s debut of slopestyle, especially for folks watching at home on the webcast, was rocky. The announcers come from other sports and are unfamiliar with the vocabulary, history and athletes of snowboarding. Which was unfortunate. The judging was also inconsistent. And paired with camera angles and commentary that made it difficult to follow each run, fans at home were left disappointed. And those being introduced to slopestyle were likely confused. (If they were watching the webcast.) This info, of course, comes from many friends who were texting, tweeting and calling me during the event. I was standing at the bottom of the course, where it wasn’t much easier to follow. The venue announcers didn’t announce the riders before they dropped and half the runs were called in English, half in Russian.
But the riding was incredible. And it was only qualifiers. HERE’S MY TAKE ON DAY ONE OF SNOWBOARDING COMPETITION.
The women also rode extremely well. The course, as we know, is big. And they handled it well. Kjersti Buaas took a hard slam and later reported on Instagram that she tore an ab muscle. Not great, and enough to keep her out of competition, but she’s alright. Ty Walker also bruised her heel. But all in all, they pushed themselves, rode great and TWO OF OUR AMERICAN RIDERS QUALIFIED STRAIGHT TO FINALS.
Afterward, I went on WQED, San Francisco’s NPR station, to talk with Michael Krasny of Forum about snowboarding and freeskiing at the Games. Since I’m a huge NPR nerd, I thought that was pretty cool. And my second NPR interview ever, and in a month! I spoke with them last month about sibling snowboarders Arielle (R-E-L) and Taylor Gold.
And now, time for bed. I’m sleeping in tomorrow!