“The Olympics are where sports go to die,” says Mike Haney, president of Windells Academy. We’re at The Meeting 6, a convergence of ski and snowboard athletes, brands, filmmakers, and journalists. It’s Saturday, and we’re talking about Ski Halfpipe as it’s being considered for the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi. So far, the proposal has made it past the International Ski Federation [FIS], and is headed to the International Olympic Committee [IOC], who has the final say on whether Ski Halfpipe will be added as a sport.
Looking around the room, a number of ski industry heavy-hitters were listening and chiming in: Matt Swanson, sports marketing manager for Oakley; Tim Windell, former pro snowboarder and founder of Windells Academy; Steele Spence, former X Games competitor and current AFP judge; Jen Hudak, five-time X Games medalist in halfpipe skiing. So, when Haney made a controversial statement about the biggest athletic stage in the world, people had a lot to say.
“The writing is on the wall—look back to the Salt Lake Games, where Jonny Moseley did the Dinner Roll and ended up getting fourth place for going inverted,” said Tim Windell. The way that mogul skiing is rated often limits progression on the jumping side— in order to complete bigger tricks, you need less speed, not more. Jen Hudak, a former moguls skier, says that since the fastest time wins, athletes often throw quick, simple tricks like backflips and heli's. Moseley's game changing Dinner Roll landed him fourth place because he finished four long seconds behind the bronze medal.
Windell also referenced the Vancouver games, where Jeret “Speedy” Peterson completed his signature “Hurricane” (three flips, five twists)—the hardest move ever attempted, let alone landed, in either a World Cup or Olympic competition. His prize? Silver medal; second place; runner-up. Why? Windell agues that the judges underestimated the difficulty of the trick, even though it was one of the most progressive aerials maneuvers witnessed to date. Maybe they weren’t trained in how to judge tricks of this nature. Maybe they frowned upon the risk involved with such a move. Whatever the reason, Windell believes that the heart and soul of both moguls and aerials have been limited by the rules and regulations set forth by the Olympics, and he’s worried the same could happen to halfpipe skiing.
Jen Hudak disagrees. “The spirit of the sport will die when we let it die,” she says. As for the judging format, she’s on board. “I think that FIS has a very effective judging format, which allows for progression. In halfpipe, the current format typically has two judges for overall impression, one judge for amplitude, one for degree of difficulty and one for execution. Each of the 5 judges controls 20% of the score. The system is clear and simple.” For now, skiing’s main stage is the X Games, where events like slopestyle and big air, along with halfpipe, see some of the biggest names in the sport—Simon Dumont, Bobby Brown, TJ Schiller, Grete Eliassen, and Sarah Burke. Hudak, who won halfpipe in X Games and Euro X last year, says that the Olympics are her ultimate goal; that she’ll work harder than she has before to make it there. Others say that X Games is too young, that it has the potential to become what the Olympics are for many athletes—the pinnacle of their career.
So, are the Olympics truly where sports go to die? Do the rules set forth by FIS hold back the spirit of the sports? Or do they protect the athletes and ensure that a mainstream audience can appreciate the athletic accomplishments? One thing was clear: most people in the room, athletes and brands alike, were excited to see ski halfpipe make it to the Olympic stage. From there, it’s up to the athletes and sponsors of the Olympics to make sure the integrity of the sports is preserved. According to Jen Hudak, “The sport is ready, the athletes are ready, and the world is ready. It will take things to the next level.”