KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia -- Olympic snowboarding experienced a sizeable leap this year in participants, exposure and popularity, growing from six events at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games to 10 events at the Sochi Games.
The Olympic debut of slopestyle snowboarding attracted a lot of attention and fanfare as the men’s event kicked off the Games as the first medal event. The United States originally planned to have two-time halfpipe champion Shaun White included in the inaugural slopestyle competition, but he pulled out the day before it started in favor of focusing on halfpipe. The Americans were still able to capitalize, as Sage Kotsenburg won gold for the men and Jamie Anderson took the women’s title one day later.
While alpine snowboarding has a lower profile than halfpipe, slopestyle and snowboardcross, it now has a shot of increased exposure with the addition of parallel slalom snowboarding to the Olympic program in Sochi. Both the men’s and women’s parallel slaom events were held Saturday at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park. Parallel giant slalom has been part of the Games since snowboarding made its debut at the Nagano Games in 1998.
Justin Reiter was the sole U.S. entry in the alpine snowboarding events. Reiter, 33, worked hard to be a part of these Games after missing the 2006 and 2010 teams due to injury. He gained media attention for living out of his truck in the year leading up to the Games.
Reiter explained that the difference between the new parallel slalom event and parallel giant slalom comes down to tempo.
“Basically, the rhythm is much faster for slalom,” Reiter said.
Reiter wasn’t sure why it took longer for parallel slalom to join the Olympic program, but he was grateful that he had an opportunity to race more than once.
“Just like ski racing, there’s multiple disciplines — they’ve got downhill, super-G, super combined, slalom, as well as giant slalom, so that’s five disciplines right there,” Reiter explained. “We only have the two, so I’m very thankful that they’ve entered it. It’s great to have two opportunities.”
Reiter, the 2013 World Championships silver medalist in parallel slalom was hoping to have a big day after finishing 24th in the parallel giant slalom Wednesday; however, he missed a gate in his qualification run and was disqualified.
“Despite my finishes, I’m still proud,” Reiter said.
“It’s a huge honor to represent the U.S. and to be an Olympian, I couldn’t be more proud… I went out there and gave it 100 percent. That’s what you have to do in racing — especially our racing. It’s so tight. This course wasn’t overly technical, so I knew I had to push 100 percent. Being out here was fun, the experience created a lot of memories.”
Reiter may not have been able to enjoy success in Sochi, but a good friend and former teammate of his did. Vic Wild, an American-born who is now a citizen of Russia, won gold medals in both parallel giant slalom and parallel slalom. Wild won his first gold medal on the same day his wife, Alena Zavarzina, won parallel giant slalom bronze. Wild, who like Reiter struggled with funding and support as an American alpine snowboarder, acknowledged that Reiter played a role in helping him win two gold medals for Russia.
“He’s the man. He stuck around and helped coach me after the runs, tried to explain some things that he saw, and that makes a big difference for me,” said Wild, who briefly retired from snowboarding before going to Russia for a chance to revitalize his career. “The little things that he does for me is incredible, and I wish I could have returned the favor.”
Perhaps Reiter and Wild will meet again in 2018. Reiter doesn’t feel like he is done, as he believes improvements in consistency and cleaning up “silly mistakes that are bad habits” will make a difference.
He also believes that he can make a difference in the culture of snowboarding and helping increase the depth of U.S. alpine snowboarders.
“On the cultural side of things, I want to try and build the representation that alpine snowboarding has in the United States,” Reiter said. “I want to get more kids inspired and get more kids doing it so that we have a stronger presence here overall in 2018.”