(L-R) Nate Holland and Seth Wescott compete in the quarterfinals during the men's snowboardcross at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games on Feb. 15, 2010.
Although snowboarding got its start in the 1960s, it was a fairly loosely organized sport for years. It did not have a world championship until 1983 in Lake Tahoe, Calif. But once the sport got off the ground, it quickly made up for lost time, establishing a world cup tour and growing in popularity on the slopes all over the world. In December 1995, the International Olympic Committee approved the addition of snowboarding to the Olympic Winter Games in Nagano, Japan, in 1998. Sochi will mark the fifth Winter Games with snowboarding as part of the Olympic program and this year there will be even more snowboarding disciplines than ever before.
A GROWING SPORT
It’s hard to believe it’s already been 16 years since snowboarding made its Olympic debut at the Nagano 1998 Olympic Winter Games. Back then, the sport had just two Olympic disciplines: halfpipe and giant slalom. The sport has come a long way since then. At the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games, men and women will compete in five different disciplines: halfpipe, giant slalom, parallel slalom, slopestyle and snowboardcross.
TEAM USA STARS
|Kelly Clark competes in the halfpipe snowboarding world cup at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park in Krasnaya Polyana on Feb. 14, 2013 in Sochi, Russia.
The United States has been a snowboarding power, a trend that looks likely to continue in Sochi. Team USA is especially loaded in halfpipe. The 2014 U.S. Olympic Team includes three halfpipe gold medalists in Shaun White, Kelly Clark and Hannah Teter, while first-time Olympians Arielle Gold and Danny Davis could be contenders as well. Davis missed the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games due to a serious back injury from an all-terrain vehicle accident. Gold, 17, is the 2013 world champion. Lindsey Jacobellis, a silver medalist in Torino in 2006, and three-time Olympian Nate Holland lead a seven-member snowboard cross team. The new disciplines of slopestyle and parallel slalom could help U.S. snowboarders top the seven medals that were won in 2006. Chas Guldemond, White and Jamie Anderson are among the slopestyle Olympians.
RULING THE PIPE
Americans have ruled the halfpipe since snowboarding made its Olympic debut in 1998. Of the 24 halfpipe medals awarded over four Winter Games, the United States has won 14. The tradition started with Ross Powers and Shannon Dunn-Downing winning bronze medals in 1998. Four years later, Powers led a 1-2-3 American sweep in men’s halfpipe at the Salt Lake City 2002 Olympic Winter Games. Shaun White picked up after that, winning the 2006 and 2010 Olympic gold medals. He enters Sochi as the favorite to win a third consecutive Olympic gold medal. Kelly Clark, meanwhile, is a two-time medalist in women’s halfpipe, including the gold medal in Salt Lake City. Hannah Teter won a gold medal and Gretchen Bleiler added a silver medal in the halfpipe at the Torino 2006 Olympic Winter Games. Teter earned a silver medal and Clark earned a bronze medal in Vancouver.
|Shaun White competes in the men's slopestyle snowboarding world cup on Dec. 19, 2013 in Copper Mountain, Colo.
Nobody has mastered the art of snowboard halfpipe as magnificently as two-time defending Olympic champion Shaun White. He is the only two-time gold medalist in Olympic snowboarding history. He is also an eight-time Winter X Games superpipe champion — and that number might have been nine had he not skipped this year’s competition so that he could concentrate on his training for the 2014 Winter Games. White’s twists and flips pack a punch into a routine few others on the planet can match, such as a Cab 1430 cork and Cab 1080 double cork. White, also an elite pro skateboarder, was the first athlete to medal in both the Winter and summer X Games. In Sochi, he will not only attempt to win a third gold medal in halfpipe but he also will try to medal in the inaugural Olympic snowboard slopestyle competition. There will be one big difference when White takes to the snow in Sochi, though: the man nicknamed “The Flying Tomato” has chopped off his signature long, red hair.
Thirty-year-old Kelly Clark still has it. A four-time Olympian, Clark won her fourth consecutive Winter X Games superpipe gold medal in January in Aspen, Colo., just two weeks before the start of the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games. She beat out 13-year-old Chloe Kim and four other U.S. women in the finals, displaying again her athleticism in the women’s halfpipe. Clark is the only 12-time female medalist in X Games history and is the winningest snowboarder in history, male or female, with nearly 70 gold medals. Clark has never finished lower than fourth in the Winter Games and won a bronze medal in Vancouver in 2010. She is also giving back off the mountain. The Kelly Clark Foundation benefits youth and helps them achieve success through snowboarding.
|Siblings Taylor Gold and Arielle Gold pose for a photo after Taylor won the men's event and Arielle finished second in the women's at the word cup on Dec. 21, 2013 in Copper Mountain, Colo.
The name is sure to draw attention. Among the first-time Olympians on the U.S. Snowboarding Team are the brother-and-sister combination of Taylor and Arielle Gold. They are both halfpipe athletes. Arielle, 17, earned silver medals in two events at the Innsbruck 2012 Winter Youth Olympic Games and has risen quickly to an elite status, even winning the 2013 world championship title. Taylor, who is two years older than Arielle, first landed a spot on the U.S. world championship team in 2011. He became a snowboarder after watching the competition at the Salt Lake City 2002 Olympic Winter Games. No athlete with the last name Gold has ever competed at the Olympic Games. The Gold siblings, by the way, are not related to Gracie Gold, who is going for gold in the women’s figure skating competition in Sochi.
DATES TO REMEMBER
Snowboarding will be held virtually the entire length of the Olympic Winter Games, beginning Feb. 6, the day before the Opening Ceremony, with qualifications in men’s and women’s slopestyle. Competition will also be held on eight other dates: Feb. 8, 9, 11, 12, 16, 17, 19 and 22. The final two competition dates are for parallel slalom and parallel giant slalom. The popular halfpipe competitions featuring Olympic gold medalists Shaun White and Kelly Clark will be held Feb. 11 (men) and 12 (women).
Ten sets of medals will be handed out at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games, totaling a record 30 for snowboarding. The United States led all nations by winning five snowboarding medals at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games and seven at the Torino 2006 Olympic Winter Games. U.S. snowboarders are well positioned to continue that success in Sochi.
All snowboarding events will be held at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park. The venue, which has a spectator capacity of about 4,000, is located west of the Rosa Khutor Alpine Center that will be used for alpine skiing. The venue will also be host to freeskiing (halfpipe and slopestyle) and freestyle skiing (moguls and aerials) events.
Slopestyle is one of two new snowboarding events making its Olympic debut in Sochi. In slopestyle, riders attempt innovative jumps and twists over a course that includes rails and jumps. Two-time halfpipe gold medalist Shaun White, in particular, has spent a lot of training time in perfecting his slopestyle routine for Sochi. Chas Guldemond, Sage Kotsenburg and Ryan Stassel will join White in men’s slopestyle. Jamie Anderson, Jessika Jensen, Karly Shorr and Ty Walker will be in the women’s competition. Guldemond won a world championship in 2012 and is an X Games gold medalist. The format calls for athletes to get two runs in each round of competition.
|Justin Reiter takes a qualification run in the men's parallel giant slalom world cup on Dec. 15, 2009 in Telluride, Colo.
The other snowboarding event making its Olympic debut in Sochi is parallel slalom. It is a race in which two athletes maneuver parallel courses with similar jumps and turns. The quickest athlete wins the race. The addition of parallel slalom created an additional opportunity for Justin Reiter at his first Olympic Winter Games. Reiter finished 11th in the parallel giant slalom at the 2013 world championships, and he had a pair of fourth-place world cup finishes. He is an eight-time North American Cup champion.
In the halfpipe and slopestyle competition, six judges will be used. They determine scores on the difficulty of tricks within a run, whether they were achieved and overall performance. Points are deducted for flaws such as flat landings, falls and hand touches. There is one more judge being used than at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games. The top score and lowest score are thrown out with the remaining four scores averaged on a 100-point scale. Each rider gets two runs per round, with the better score counting in the final standings.
THE CAB 1080
Among the most impressive snowboarding moves on the halfpipe is the Cab 1080, which means rotating fully three times around while in the air and then landing safely before heading into the next move. It is a move that four-time Olympian Kelly Clark likely will attempt in Sochi and is a rarity among women. Two-time men’s gold medalist Shaun White has done the Cab 1080 with a corkscrew, or a sideways rotation. But then again, that’s just a warm-up to his Cab 1480 cork.
IT’S ALL IN THE BOOTS
While snowboarders wear plenty of equipment including the required helmet, perhaps the most important elements outside of the board itself are the boots worn by halfpipe snowboarders. The boots are specially made so that maximum movement is allowed at the ankles. The flexibility allows athletes to make quick moves in their routines.