In Sochi, snowboarders critical of Olympic halfpipe

February 10

Snowboarders at the Olympics at times seem to have a language all their own. But there was no need for a translator Monday because nobody was mincing words: The Sochi halfpipe is substandard, the top riders in the world agreed.

Just one day before the Olympic halfpipe competition is scheduled to begin, snowboarders criticized the condition of the pipe, and one former gold medal winner even suggested the event be pushed back.

“Everyone is not happy right now,” said three-time Olympian Hannah Teter, the 2006 gold medal winner in the event. “I saw everyone take a hard fall today. That never happens. . . . They should push it back is what they should do, and fix it so we can showcase snowboarding the way it needs to be showcased. Not as a junk show, which is what it was looking like right now.”

The men’s halfpipe competition is scheduled for Tuesday night at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park with the women scheduled to compete Wednesday. Officials were planning to work through the night to improve the pipe, after a second straight day of uncharacteristic spills and unrestrained critiques.

Shaun White, the two-time gold medal winner in the event, didn’t try to hide his frustration following practice Monday night, calling the pipe “disappointing.”

“It’s hard to get in there and have all the tricks and have everything that you need and not be able to get to the wall,” he said. “I just had a frustrating practice and I’m hoping tomorrow will be better.”

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Evolving sports of the Winter Olympics

Practice Monday was originally scheduled for the morning but was postponed so officials could work on the pipe. Later in the evening, riders said as practice progressed, the transitions grew increasingly bumpy, and the flat surface area between the walls deteriorated. Teter likened it to a mogul field. Many riders had trouble staying upright and gathering momentum between tricks.

“That’s not what halfpipe is supposed to be like,” Teter said. “People are supposed to be landing their tricks.”

Snowboarders said the pipe was actually improved from Sunday, the first day of practice. The walls and curves received significant work. One U.S. coach said the warm weather Monday helped the snow stick earlier in the day, but riders said after a single practice run the pipe worsened and snowboarders began to fear what conditions would be like during actual competition.

American Danny Davis stopped short of calling the course dangerous. “It's just not as fun,” he said.

With more freestyle events, the Sochi Olympics will look more like the Winter X Games than ever before. (Associated Press)

Riders say they’ve been told the course will receive further treatment and grooming overnight, but some were openly considering their options after Monday's practice.

“If all of us got together, and we’re like, ‘We’re not doing it, let’s push it back,’ maybe they would,” Teter said. “I don’t know if that’s going to happen.”

Teter acknowledged such a protest was unlikely, but she said White’s representatives have expressed concerns. White pulled out of the slopestyle competition last week, calling the course “intimidating” and saying he didn’t want to risk injury before his featured event. While he expressed frustration with the halfpipe course Monday night, he wasn’t certain what changes might occur before the competition begins.

“I don’t know the exact plan,” White said. “I’m sure there will be some sort of coaches’ meeting or something. I don’t really get involved in that. I’m hoping they can do whatever they can to make it a better pipe. It’s hard to get here and see this and feel the pressure. I don’t know.”

Under the current conditions, most said they’d have to alter their planned runs. White said he’d have trouble throwing his cab double cork 1440. “I’m hoping for the best,” he said.

Said Davis: “There’s a bunch of kids who can ride well in these conditions. I’m a little bit worried about myself riding so well in these conditions. Like I said, we’re going to ride it anyway.”

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Mountains of the Olympics

After two days of practices, riders say the Sochi Olympics pipe will force all riders to make adjustments. Many competed in a test event here last year and said the pipe was subpar at the time. A year later, it's still noticeably different from what they see in regular competitions.

“In the U.S., we build the best pipes in the world,” said Peter Foley, the U.S. snowboarding head coach. “We’ve had great contest pipes all year long. . . . That’s the standard; that’s what you like to see.”

Competing in her fourth Olympics, Kelly Clark has ridden the best halfpipes in the world. Despite the conditions this week, she said the Sochi pipe is actually an improvement over the one in Vancouver four years ago because of its steeper walls and a longer run. Even if conditions aren’t perfect this week, she said the best riders in the world should be good enough to deal with the adversity.

“If you’re making a mistake, it’s going to be amplified,” said Clark, who won gold at the 2002 Games. “The strongest rider is still going to come out on top.”

Even though tricks will be thrown and medals handed out, the event deserves better, Teter said, particularly on an Olympic stage with the whole world watching.

“You want everybody to see snowboarding as it should be, looking phenomenal with everybody doing what they know how to do,” she said. “Hopefully, they can pull it together.”

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