A new snowboarding event called slopestyle is being added to the Olympics and will debut at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.
In slopestyle snowboarding, athletes perform tricks on a course made up of a variety of obstacles. Athletes are judged on the difficulty, style and variety of the tricks in their run.
Slopestyle courses are typically divided into two sections: rails and jumps. In the rails section, athletes perform skateboard-inspired tricks on narrow metal pipes. Following the rails section is a series of jumps where athletes perform aerial maneuvers such as flips and spins.
Snowboarding joined the Olympics in 1998 with halfpipe and slalom events. Snowboard cross was added to the games in 2006. Slopestyle is the fourth snowboarding event to be added to the Olympics.
Despite the addition of these events to the games, the Olympics have been criticized by snowboarders who believe the Games do not offer a true representation of their sport. Halfpipe, slalom and snowboard cross are disciplines only practiced by a minority of snowboarders. By contrast, slopestyle is seen by many as more representative of what most snowboarders do.
Yet the new event has not been without its critics. Veteran NBC sportscaster Bob Costas compared slopestyle to the MTV show Jackass, in which amateur stuntmen performed a variety of dangerous tasks. Olympic athletes were quick to deride Costa’s comments.
“We just got into the Olympics and already we have guys who know nothing about the history of our sport telling us we’re a bunch of jackasses? That’s pretty demeaning.” said Sage Kotsenburg, a United States slopestyle team member in an interview with ESPN.com.
The event, which begins on Feb. 6, will feature a loaded field of athletes. The men’s side includes thirty athletes from thirteen countries while the women’s portion includes twenty four athletes from twelve countries.
In the men’s competition, the podium will likely belong to three nations: Canada, Norway and the United States.
The Canadian team is led by Regina-born Mark McMorris. The twenty-year old exploded onto the competitive scene in 2011 by landing the world’s first triple cork — a complicated aerial maneuver that involves multiple flips and rotations. Since then, McMorris has won a number of major slopestyle competitions including the 2012 Dew Tour and 2013 X Games.
Unfortunately, McMorris suffered a broken rib from a bad fall at the 2014 X Games on Jan. 25 — the last major competition before the Olympic games. According to McMorris’ Twitter account, he still plans to compete in Sochi.
Behind McMorris is a trio of talented young Quebecers in Max Parrot, Sebastien Toutant and Charles Reid. In addition to taking a gold medal in the X Games big air competition on Jan. 24, the nineteen-year old Parrot beat favorite McMorris to take the gold medal in slopestyle as well.
The Norwegian team has two members who could easily contend for medals. Torstein Horgmo has struggled in competition this season but brings a deep bag of tricks to the competition and could easily make the event. Meanwhile, Stale Sandbech currently holds the top spot on the Ticket to Ride World Snowboard Tour, which serves as a series of Olympic qualifying events.
Legendary snowboarder Shaun White will lead the American team, but is unlikely to contend in the slopestyle event as he is a halfpipe specialist. However, Chas Guldemond and Sage Kotsenburg are fringe medal contenders.
Outside of Canada, Norway and the U.S., other contenders include Finland’s Peetu Piiroinen and Belgium’s Seppe Smits, who will be the first Belgian snowboarder to compete in the Olympic Games.
On the women’s side, American Jamie Anderson and Canadian Spencer O’Brien were expected to enter Sochi as heavy favorites. However, both were upset by Norwegian Silje Norendal at the X Games and took second and third place respectively. With the win, Norendal took over first place in the women’s TTR World Snowboard Tour rankings.
Beyond the X Games medalists, the women’s field is fairly evenly spread. The Czech Republic’s Sarka Pancochova is highly ranked on the world tour and holds several high profile wins at slopestyle competitions this season. Finland’s Enni Rukajärvi is an active competitor who always seems to finish just off of the podium. Possible dark horse contenders for medals are Norway’s Kjersti Buaas and Finland’s Merika Enne are.
The Olympic snowboarding slopestyle competition begins with the men’s and women’s qualifying rounds on Feb. 6. The men’s semifinals and finals are on Feb. 8, with the women’s semifinals and finals on Feb. 9.