Moguls course undergoing tweaks as Olympics loom
KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia (AP) — The ambitious slopestyle course that sent Shaun White sprinting for the serenity and apparent safety of the halfpipe isn’t the only Olympic event at Sochi’s Extreme Park turning heads and sending riders tumbling down the mountain.
Things have been nearly as dicey in moguls. The U.S. was among several countries to unsuccessfully ask officials Wednesday to tweak the course, expressing concerns about unusual sequencing along the 700-foot sprint across bumps and jumps that make for a unique mixture of daredevil downhill racing and aerials.
“There’s a lot of issues with the course,” American Patrick Deneen said.
Deneen, however, cautioned against confusing “issues” with “danger.”
“Everybody is scrambling a little bit,” he said. “This isn’t what anybody expected, but it’s really good. We’re really liking it. They made a few mistakes while they were building the course and we’re fighting those ... but they also did some pretty cool things.”
Still, Deneen admitted it was a “battle” when the U.S. team arrived for its first practice earlier this week. The course had barely been completed when the Americans popped on their skis and went careening down the hill at speeds of up to 35 mph.
Things didn’t go so well. During practice Tuesday, the 26-year-old Deneen caught an edge entering the second of the course’s two jumps and slammed into it.
“There was no way around it,” he said. “It was like crashing into a wall. It’s just not going to feel good no matter what happens.”
Deneen underwent X-rays for an unspecified injury and plans to be ready when the men’s competition begins next week. There’s a chance by then the course’s rough edges will have been smoothed out.
There’s not that much time for the women, who begin qualifying Thursday. American Heidi Kloser, making her Olympic debut, called the course “challenging,” but pointed at improvements during three days of training.
“The course is pretty safe now,” she said. “The first day it was a little bit rough because no one had skied it and we were worried about the bottom of the course being more dangerous.”
She’s no longer concerned about the final moments of her run being any more perilous than any other event on the World Cup circuit. She fell on Tuesday, but chalked that up to the inherent risk that comes with flinging yourself over dozens of balance-testing bumps and two jumps, where skiers mix a combination of spins and flips.
“It’s not normal training if you don’t fall,” she said with a laugh. “You’re not pushing yourself.”
Maybe, but Deneen and Kloser echoed the sentiments of snowboard riders who are questioning whether the slopestyle course — located about a half-mile down the mountain from the moguls run — pushes the boundaries of safety a little too far.
White bailed on his bid to leave Sochi with multiple gold medals when he pulled out of slopestyle partly out of fear an injury in that event could harm his chances of capturing a third straight gold in halfpipe.
Several other riders expressed surprise over the size and the speed of the slopestyle route, which includes a mixture of rails and big-time jumps designed to allow competitors enough air time to pack in two or three flips.
Yet for every detractor, a list that includes White and defending women’s halfpipe gold medalist Torah Bright of Australia, there have been those, such as American Sage Kotsenburg, praising its sheer audacity.
Deneen sees both sides of the argument. Yes, it’s different than what he’s used to. He’s not entirely sure that’s a bad thing. Yeah, the moguls are bumpy, but isn’t that kind of the point?
“This is a moguls skiing competition,” he said, “so it’s good to have some crazy moguls in there.”