Something big could be in the air in 2018.
The U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association is proposing the addition of two snowboarding events for the Olympic program — big air snowboarding and team snowboardcross — both of which the USSA would like to see on the schedule at the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games in South Korea. Big air has been contested at the FIS World Championships since 2003. SBX was added to the Olympic program in 2006, but without a team event.
The USSA made a formal proposal to the International Ski Federation Tuesday during the FIS Congress in Barcelona, Spain. If the USSA can get approval from the FIS, the next step would be to make the pitch to the International Olympic Committee.
“It’s vital that we keep our sports fresh and relevant to youth,” said Tiger Shaw, president and CEO for the USSA. “We clearly saw the global benefits with the additional new events in Sochi. This is yet another step to keep the Olympics in sync with what excites kids in the sport today and to build the brand of FIS.”
The addition of these events would follow a successful Winter Games for Team USA in Sochi, Russia, in which American athletes did exceptionally well in the newer sports. Back in February, Sage Kotsenburg became the first Olympic champion in men’s slopestyle snowboarding, and Jamie Anderson won the inaugural gold medal on the women’s side.
Team USA also dominated the podium in men’s and women’s halfpipe skiing, which also were disciplines added to the Olympic program in Sochi. David Wise won the men’s halfpipe skiing gold medal while Maddie Bowman claimed the gold medal in the women’s event.
But what exactly are big air snowboarding and team snowboardcross?
Big air snowboarders fly off a man-made ramp and soar high into the air performing various tricks. Big air is similar to slopestyle (in which athletes also ride across rails), and some athletes, such as Kotsenburg, have competed in both. Kotsenburg earned a bronze medal in big air in the 2011 X Games and competed in the event at the 2014 X Games in Aspen, Colorado.
Snowboardcross involves several snowboarders racing simultaneously down a course. The USSA proposal changes things up a bit by adding a team event in this discipline, which already includes one men’s and one women’s event in the Games. Team snowboardcross made its debut in the world championships in 2013.
In a USSA news release, Kotsenburg sounded enthused by the proposal to add these two sports to the Winter Games.
“As we have all seen with the addition of halfpipe into the Olympics, it became a viewer favorite,” Kotsenburg said. “When slopestyle was added, it was also one of the favorites with the third most streams of the entire Games and one of the most watched sports. With big air, it would bring even more snowboarding to the world and, if we do it right it, would benefit snowboarding and the Olympics.
“I would actually be really excited about big air being in the Olympics. The first and foremost important thing I would like to see happen would be figuring out the best format that would benefit the riders and the viewers.”
Snowboarding events took off with American audiences in Sochi, and even President Barack Obama took notice of the sport. When he spoke to Team USA athletes in April at the White House, Obama joked about the new lexicon the sport added to American newscasts.
“I would personally like to thank all our snowboarders and freestyle skiers for making newscasters across America say things like, ‘air to fakie,’ and the ‘back-to-back double cork 1260,” Obama said. “I don’t know what that means exactly but I just wanted to say it. I’m pretty sure I’m the first president to ever say that.”
The USSA press release about the proposal included supportive comments from various U.S. Olympic medalists, from Kotsenburg to Alex Deibold, the 2014 snowboardcross bronze medalist, to silver medalist Lindsey Jacobellis, but also featured comments from the likes of Canada’s Mark McMorris, one of the top snowboarders in the world, and Australia’s two-time snowboardcross world champion Alex Pullin showing the proposal has global appeal.
“Team SBX would be a great addition to our sport,” Deibold said. “It adds a whole new dynamic and makes snowboardcross even more exciting.
“There is also the potential to have mixed gender racing which would be something totally new and different, and a step in the direction of equality,” Deibold added. “In an individual sport it adds a much-needed team dynamic, helping athletes work together when they normally would not. Most importantly to me, it is fun, and that is the reason we all started snowboarding.”
Amy Rosewater is a freelance writer and editor for TeamUSA.org. A former sports reporter for The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer, she covered her fifth Olympic Games in Sochi. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post and USA Today.