Aaron’s Blog –
Coming into the Olympic slopestyle men’s final, the stage was set for the greatest slopestyle battle in the history of snowboarding. The course that was questioned for being dangerous turned out to be the best slopestyle course I’ve ever witnessed. The jumps were BIG & the rail section was SICK! Conditions were perfect with blue skies for miles and perfect snow. It was everything the riders had pictured in their wildest fantasies from the first moment slopestyle had a hope of being in the Olympics. And to top it off the field of riders that had claimed the golden ticket to the Olympic slopestyle final that day without question represented the top talent in the world of slopestyle. With every single one of them ready to throw safety to the wind and put down the run of their life.
And if you’re a fan of slopestyle like I am, having followed the progression of freestyle from its early days, living vicariously through the athletes and imagining what it would take to put down the winning run myself in every slopestyle contest I watched, witnessing this contest was almost as big a dream for me as it was for the athletes.
The storyline coming into the Olympic Slopestyle contest (after Shaun White wussed out) was really perceived by most to be a battle between the 2 top Canadian contenders, Mark McMorris and Max Parrot of Canada. Mark, who was the gold-medal favorite for months leading up to the contest had the pressure of an entire nation on his back and was even projected as “unbeatable” by world-renowned Transworld snowboarding. However, Max Parrot, no longer the underdog he was once perceived to be, winning every single contest coming into the Olympic Slopestyle final, including a double gold performance at X games where he landed the first back-to-back triple corks in a slopestyle run, was now the odds on favorite. He was even the favorite of the betting community with odds of 2.44 to 1 to win gold. And after watching Max’s performance at the X games, everyone, the riders and the snowboard community KNEW that the gold-medal run at the Olympics would take 2 triple corks to win. Everybody wants that gold medal so you knew the riders were going to throw down. The stage was set for for something incredible.
The Men’s Olympic Slopestyle Final Goes off but Inconsistent Judging Ruins the Day
The finals got off to a fast start with Sage Kostenberg posting a huge score of 93 and change, setting the bar for the other riders to come with his signature style tweaked grabs an impressive rails with a holy crail backside 1620. A trick sage had never tried in his life and landed perfectly first try with the world watching. Well deserving of a podium spot, but at that point nobody believed it would stand up to be the gold medal run. Max and Mark both fell in their first run leaving just one run for them to throw it all out there. Mark dropped in first, for his 2nd run, and put down the run of his life. It was the run he came to do and the run everyone thought would win gold. Unless Max had something to say about it.
But Mark’s jubilation quickly turned to nerves as he awaited the judges score. And in those long tense moments leading up to the judges decision, a huge question swept through the minds of everyone watching …would the judges get it right? The serious questioning of the judging after the qualification rounds, was fresh in everyone’s minds, especially the previous scores, for one of Mark’s, and in particular Bill Morgan’s runs that many thought would put them straight through to the final. What would the judges do this time?
When the scores came in…. Mark’s heart sank as his Olympic Slopestyle gold medal was stolen from him, leaving him in 2nd place with an 88.75, well behind the score of 93 that the judges had awarded Sage. And with 10 riders left to go, what did they have to do to win? They didn’t have a clue! With only seconds before the next rider dropped in, every single rider left to go was questioning the run than they had previously planned. How can that be? How can there be such a enormous miscommunication between the judges and the riders competing on the final run of the Olympic slopestyle final! WTF?
Apparently Stale Sandbech had some idea of what the judges wanted to see as he changed up his plan to run to include a front side 1440 and a backside triple cork 1440, opting out of the original plan of 2 triple corks and landed himself in 2nd place, squeezing Mark down to 3rd. The most notable effect of this dysfunctional judging mind game was on Maxence Parrot who got the impression that a run with 2 triple corks wasn’t going to do it, opted out of his 1st triple cork replacing it with a cab double cork 1260. A trick that was clearly less technically difficult. Had Mark been scored the same way every other slopestyle contest was and Mark ended up in 1st place after his run, Max would have done the triple cork 1260 and the backside triple 1620. If he had landed that run he should have won. But now we’ll never know.
Post Olympic Resolve
So where does that leave us? Clearly with a bitter taste even though the riding is self was beyond spectacular. As the article on Transworld snowboarding following the slopestyle contest put well (Article), this judging result is going to have far-reaching effects for the future of snowboarding. With the ultimate prize in snowboarding now being a gold medal at the Olympics, the FIS judges seem to wield in their hands the power to choose the direction of the sport.
But should it really be that way? Should riders be forced to jump through the hoops set by a group of judges they don’t even know? While that would clearly be an unspeakable tragedy, what power does the snowboard community have to change course?
An Olympic Slopestyle Rematch?
The obvious truth is that the future of the sport should be in the hands of those competing in it. The riders should be the ones to decide. So here’s what I propose: A statement event by the riders in an Olympic Slopestyle rematch inviting back all the riders who participated (including Torstein Horgmo who was injured before the contest and could not compete) as well as a few other key invites to truly represent the best riders in the world and let them battle it out on the same course at Rosa Khutor.
However, instead of the traditional panel of judges that score each run at its completion, the riders themselves will be the judges. I suggest a 3 run format like they have at the X games slopestyle final where each rider tries to put down the best run they are capable of. But instead of receiving a score after each run, judging will be reserved until the last rider has taken his last run. Then all the riders sit down and carefully watch all the runs of their competitors and each with a ballot card rank the top 5 riders they believe were the best, excluding themselves. The rider with the most votes wins. Simple. And in what I can only hope would be an equally epic throwdown, the top 3 riders who end up on the podium would truly represent slopestyle’s best as voted by the people who know it best. So judges everywhere take note. Because what happened that day cannot be repeated. This could be the beacon that lights the way. The sport itself hangs in the balance.
PS– Canadians Can Watch the Full Event Online Here: http://olympics.cbc.ca/videos/live/video/men-snowboard-slopestyle-finals-webcast.html