Next week a bunch of ski racers will decide whether to include snowboard Slopestyle into the 2014 Olympic games. How will this affect slopestyle? Let’s look at what it did to halfpipe.
Without a rockstar like Shaun White to spur on the ratings, the Olympics could risk becoming as irrelevant to the average snowboarder as Aerial Skiing is to regular skiers. Photo Jake McBride
The following is an excerpt from Transfer Snowboard Magazine Issue #4:
“Opinion: Death By Olympics – Is halfpipe snowboarding the new Aerial Skiing?”
Words by :: Russell Holt
Famously in 1998 Terje Haakonsen, the best snowboarder in the world at the time, told the IOC (International Olympic Committee) and the Olympics, in more appropriate terms to – fuck off! It was a David and Goliath moment, an insightful, powerful and momentous action by a kid from Norway who was only one of few people who truly understood why snowboarding and the Olympics was not meant to be.
His actions signified the time when action sports were pulled into the Olympic world. Kicking and screaming, snowboarding became the first “Xtreme Sport” to be captured by the Olympic movement, then repackaged and sold. In the wake of its ram-and-raid on snowboarding, the IOC left a trail of destruction. Amongst the casualties: a collapsed ISF (International Snowboarding Federation), a divided snowboard community, an Olympic champion who wasn’t anywhere near the best in the world and a bunch of downhill skiers running the only Snowboard World Cup Tour. Terje later said “The IOC are supposed to do it for the love of all sports. If they love all sports, why do they have a ski federation to organize snowboarding events? That’s no love, that’s not even logic.”
Australia’s under sung female ruler of the halfpipe, Holly Crawford is a testament that training and coaches can get you high. Frontside 900 in the finals of the 2010 Olympic games. Photo Jake McBride
But to understand more about the current state and then the future of halfpipe snowboarding in the Olympics we first have to talk about why snowboarding is there in the first place. Why did the IOC want snowboarding?
Well unfortunately like a lot of things, it comes down to money. The IOC launched the Winter Olympics in 1924 and not until the late 1960’s it operated purely as a non-commercial organization. It was during the lead up to the 1968 Winter Olympics in Grenoble, France that commercialization started to creep on to the board-room agenda of its members. This change in ideals was such a horrific notion to the then president of the IOC, Avery Brundage, that he suggested the Winter Olympics be abolished there and then, as he felt it didn’t reflect the spirit of the Olympic movement.
By 1972, Brundage had left his post and the IOC had two million dollars in the bank. With Brundage gone, it gained a new freedom to roam the corporate landscape with the Olympics for sale. The IOC offers quickly swelled to $45 million in just a few years, thanks to sponsorships and broadcasting rights. Now you may be wondering what the relevance is here. Well, with money changing hands over sponsorship, the IOC gains an invested interest to work closely with the sponsoring media agencies to help boost their TV ratings and help them gain a return on their huge investments in the Games and fuel an insatiable need for larger audience across different age groups.
In the early 90’s the Olympics were in search of something to inject life into the games and into the ratings. It was the same time that Action Sports were peaking across the globe – skateboarding, motorcross and snowboarding were pulling huge audiences and youth participation – and it didn’t take long for the IOC to put one plus one together – the networks wanted it and the IOC had to make it happen, action sports needed to be in the Olympics. …
Australia’s gold medal winner from Vancouver, Torah Bright probably doesn’t really care about all this politics. Should she? Photo Jake McBride
…The future of halfpipe snowboarding now risks turning into the snowboard version of Aerial Skiing – owned, packaged and delivered by the IOC, the FIS and the Olympics. What does this leave for the millions of snowboarders around the world who want to keep competing but keep having fun riding against the best riders without trainers, urine tests and gym routines?
For Terje Haakonsen the answer maybe lies in looking at snowboarding from the outside and comparing that with other sports like boxing; “Snowboarding is extremely confusing for the media.” Terje explains. “Like when FIS holds their “World Championships” in Korea, while in reality, the world’s best riders are all at the Burton European Open. The mainstream needs clarity. They’re like, “Should we write about the ‘Worlds,’ or should we write about the best riders? Fuck, we are not even going to write about it because it’s such a circus.” Where’s the credibility?
It’s at this point that the TTR World Snowboard Tour starts making a whole lot of sense for the future of snowboarding and competition. The TTR, that thankfully filled the void left by the ISF, provides an open format tour accepting all snowboarders and encompassing all aspects of snowboarding; halfpipe, slopestyle, rails, big air and even freeriding – like Travis Rice’s Natural Selection Freeride event, which was a sanctioned TTR World Tour event with the same rankings as some halfpipe or rail event. Basically, any event in any format can be a part of the TTR Tour and because of that the TTR Tour can naturally evolve with the changes of snowboarding. The key to its success is flexibility, not rigidity like the FIS and Olympics, and in the end the overall winner of this tour are the snowboarders.
When the Olympic movement casts its next Winter Games challenge in 2014; “Aim Swifter, Higher and Stronger”, will it be referring to the athletes or to its own bank accounts?
Young champs like Scott James of Australia who was the youngest snowboarder to ever compete at an Olympic snowboard event (15 in Vancouver, 2010) may be strapping in for a slopestyle event too at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics in Russia. Photo Jake McBride
For the full-length story, get yourself a copy of Transfer Snowboard Magazine Issue #4 – in stores now!