Big Air a likely next step at Olympics
KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia (AP) — Coming soon to an Olympics near you: Could it be Big Air?
Buoyed by the success of slopestyle and other new action sports at this year’s Sochi Games, leaders at the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association are hatching a plan to bring a few more high-flying athletes into the mix.
“We’re working on some things,” Bill Marolt, the president and CEO of USSA, told The Associated Press. “There’s definitely a possibility some new events could be added.”
He would not get into specifics, but there have been conversations in international circles about two events: a team snowboardcross race and Big Air.
Team snowboardcross is a relay version of the bang-’em-up version of snowboard racing, in which six riders line up and race their way down the hill, side-by-side.
Big Air is essentially a “Best Of” slopestyle contest, in which the rails and kickers are ditched and riders simply do jump after jump off a highly pitched ramp.
From the start of the Sochi Games, the colorful, made-for-TV nature of the new Olympic sports was on full display. American Sage Kotsenburg flew over a massive Russian nesting doll, then pulled off a jump he’d never tried — with 1620 degrees of spin and a fancy grab of his board — to capture the first gold of the games.
Slopestyle was added to the Olympic program in both the snowboard and skiing varieties, while a skiing version of halfpipe was introduced, as well.
That meant more medals to go around and the United States and Canada took full advantage.
The Americans won 12 medals at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park. Canada took 11.
The message was clear: These two countries worked hardest to bring these sports into the Olympics. They knew there were medals to be won and they knew the sports would sell to TV networks back home.
NBC paid $775 million to televise the games; it’s the biggest single chunk of money the IOC brings in.
“We saw what snowboarding brought, and we looked around and saw what freeskiing could bring,” Marolt said. “When the IOC looked at it, it was about the same time NBC was looking for sports that were relative to the youth market. It worked out well.”
Here are five highlights (with a lowlight or two sprinkled in) from the 17 days of action at the Extreme Park:
SHAUN WHITE: This was the best and worst. Worst because he pulled out slopestyle and finished fourth in his signature event, the halfpipe. Best, though, because fans got to see another side of the world’s most famous snowboarder — some genuine vulnerability throughout and the moment when he hopped the fence to hug it out with a pair of kids with cancer. And the sport didn’t disintegrate without him. The world met the “I-Pod” — Iouri Podladtchikov — and some other rising stars, as well.
SARAH BURKE: Members of Team Canada spread Burke’s ashes on the halfpipe. The IOC banned the wearing of arm bands or any stickers to commemorate the fallen Canadian star, who pushed hard to have her sport included in the games. But that couldn’t dampen this tribute. One of Burke’s friends, Marie Martinod, came out of retirement to compete at Burke’s behest and won a silver medal. Course workers made their last trip down the halfpipe in the formation of a heart. An unforgettable evening.
VIC WILD: Russian fans roared for the American-born snowboarder who married a Russian girl and competed for his adopted country. He won two gold medals in the sport’s less-popular racing events, parallel giant slalom and parallel slalom. The latter was introduced this year as a favor to the Russians, who were hoping for some success at the Extreme Park, and found it from the most unlikely of places.
DANGER: Russian skicross racer Maria Komissarova fractured her spine during a training run on that supersized course. It led to the delicate question of whether some of these Olympic layouts were too tough for the women. Also, there were lots of complaints, mostly from snowboarders, about conditions around the park. Some of them were legit. Some of them, however, were overwrought and started sounding a bit like whining.
COLOR: These are the sports that gave us tricks called the “Holy Crail,” the “Yolo” and the “Screamin’ Seaman.” Oh, and Gus Kenworthy, who made it home with the stray dogs just fine, thank you. At times, it was hard to figure out exactly what these athletes were really doing — all the flips and twists can get confusing. But it was quite a show. “I’m still trying to believe this whole crazy thing,” said the shocked-but-ebullient American, David Wise, after winning the ski halfpipe gold. He certainly wasn’t alone.
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