Nate Johnstone in Mammoth. Image – Tyler Heffernan
Words:: Tess Cook
Australian snowboarder Nate Johnstone’s Olympic hopes are in jeopardy after the 19 year old sustained a suspected fractured ankle in a training accident on Thursday 21 January.The Sydney half pipe rider, a regular World Cup podium finisher and a strong Olympic medal chance, landed awkwardly on his front foot while attempting a trick training in Otsego Resort, Michigan in the United States.
Johnstone will see an Orthopedic specialist on Friday 22 January to determine if he can recover sufficiently to compete in the Vancouver Olympic Winter Games in February. Johnstone’s event, the half pipe, is scheduled for 17 February, giving him a little under four weeks recovery time, typically a fractured ankle requires six weeks.
“It’s very disappointing, it’s very difficult timing and that’s the biggest thing,” Olympic Winter Institute chief executive officer Geoff Lipshut told Australian Associated Press (AAP).
“He’s likely to have a fracture – I’m not sure exactly how bad it is but we’ll know more tomorrow.”
“If you have six weeks with a fracture it could be OK, if you have four weeks it makes it very tough,” he said.
“If it’s minor it could be OK, but it will be difficult.”
Johnstone is Australia’s top ranked male half pipe athlete, he finished the 2008/09 season ranked second on the World Cup standings. In the recent US Grand Prix event at Mammoth Mountain, one of snowboarding’s premier international competitions, he finished 14th with a run he used as a test for the new tricks he hopes to perfect by Vancouver.
15 year old half pipe hopeful Scott James will not replace Johnstone on the Olympic team according to Ski and Snowboard Australia (SSA) CEO Michael Kennedy.
“Even if we wanted to substitute Scott for any of the other athletes (including in the event of injury), it would not be possible because he has not met the minimum participation criteria as set by FIS and the IOC to compete at the Games,” Kennedy said earlier in the week. There had been talk amongst the Australian snowboarding community before Johnstone’s accident that James may replace Australia’s other half pipe rider Ben Mates in one of Australia’s two Olympic quota places for the half pipe. James’ potential, talent and media attraction as half pipe’s youngest competitor could have made him an attractive addition to the Olympic team it was suggested. However, SSA confirmed James could not compete at the Games.
“Even if Nate or Ben could not compete for any reason, the quota spot would go unused because Scott has not met the minimum standard for participation,” said Kennedy. James needed to have met the criteria by 18 January.
As well as Ben Mates, Australia has female riders Torah Bright and Holly Crawford in the Olympic half pipe. Bright and Crawford are regulars on World Cup and Grand Prix podiums, Bright is considered one of the sport’s best female athletes. She is reigning World Super Pipe Champion. Crawford placed third at the most recent Grand Prix in Mammoth Mountain.