Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Questioning the Quality of the Sochi Slopestyle Course

The 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia has faced a storm of criticism from the media for poorly prepared lodging. However, the withdrawal of USA snowboard superstar Shaun White from the Slopestyle competition calls into question whether poor preparations have extended to athletic facilities.

 Slopestyle is a new sport in the Winter Olympics. Slopestyle is a discipline which combines skill sets of skiing and snowboarding. Competitors perform tricks on a mountainside course which resembles a snowy skate park. Slopestyle may draw more youthful extreme sports enthusiast to follow the Winter Olympics.

 The Slopestyle course for the Sochi Olympics is a 2,083-foot course with three humongous jumps and an assortment of pipes and rails on which the 30 male and 24 female athletes perform freestyle tricks. The competitors are judged on: 1) the execution of style 2) variety and difficulty of tricks and 3) risk and progression.

 The jump in the Sochi Extreme Park is 72 feet (22 meters) high. That is like stacking six school buses on top of each other. The other two jumps are around 59 feet (18 meters) high. There are also three jibs (assortments of pipes and rails) where the snowboarders do their freestyle tricks as they descend the 656 feet (200 meters) to the finish.

Here is a point of view shot of the descent down the Sochi Slopestyle course.

So there is an exciting new Olympic event which promises to draw more extreme sports fanatics to watch the Sochi Winter Games.  What could go wrong?

Well, the Slopestyle course at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park generated quite a bit of concern among participating athletes.  In practice runs before the start of the games, Norwegian snowboarder Torstein Horgmo crashed at the top of the course and broke his collar bone.  The next day during practices, Finnish snowboarder Marika Enne suffered a concussion.

 To be fair, there is some speculation that White was more concerned about a prior wrist sprain in the US qualification.  Some cynics suggest that White might have pulled out of Sochi Slopestyles when it seemed like he would only place in 6th, which was not good enough for endorsement deals.  Nevertheless, after he sprained his wrist in Sochi practice runs and  American Shaun White decided to bow out of the Slopestyle competition, it drew more attention to the unforgiving Slopestyle course.

The consensus among Sochi Slopestyle competitors is that changes needed to be made.  British snowboarder (and World Cup medalist) Billy Morgan,  criticizes the design of the jumps which he believes are too steep which results in snowboarders losing speed at the top of each jump, yet there are short landings on the other side. Seamus O'Connor, a San Diego snowboarder representing Ireland believes that the railings are too close together and that the jumps have been overbuilt.  Australian snowboarder Torah Bright initially offered a damning appraisal of the craftsmanship of the Sochi Winter Olympics Extreme Park.

Sochi Olympic organizers have scrambled to make adjustments to the Slopestyle course.  International Ski and Snowboard Federation technical delegate Bill van Gilder anticipated that the height of all three jumps may be lowered by six feet.   Ms. Bright seemed pleased by some of the course corrections that Sochi organizers made after her initial practice runs.

Another issue may be the condition of the snow.  Most of the snow on the course is old stuff stockpiled over the last year mixed in with artificial snow.  That makes the course too soft in some areas and too hard in other parts. Due to the warm weather, raking equipment has not been able to get on the course since the weight of heavy equipment could break the course down in these conditions.

Of course, the Sochi Slopestyle course controversy did not effect the performance of Super Mario and Sonic on the slopes.

h/t: PRI 

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