Spencer O’Brien VS. The FIS | Olympic Snowboarding can do better
The FIS are not so popular in snowboarding and never have been. After the disappointing shit show that was the women’s Slopestyle event at the 2018 Olympics the point was further proven. Forced to compete in conditions far too windy the women weren’t able to showcase their skills and were lucky no one was taken away on a stretcher.
Spencer O’Brien has stepped up to the microphone and wrote a piece for The Players Tribune that details the struggle of the slopestyle and the victory of the women’s Big Air.
We started practice and to no one’s surprise it was worse than the day before. I finished practice and returned to the top for what I presumed would be a riders’ meeting with the organizers to discuss our options. I arrived to see the first athlete already dropping in. I was shocked and angry that the event was moving forward. It was the Olympic Games. I had waited four years for this opportunity, spent thousands of hours training and countless dollars travelling the world to qualify. This event was happening whether I, or anyone, felt it was safe or fair. If I wanted this chance that I had waited so long for, I would just have to swallow my pride and do what I could. I watched in horror as rider after rider got blown around by huge gusts of winds. Some women came up short, others overshot. People landed on their heads, caught their edges, and flew out of control over the jumps—myself included. In the entire Olympic final, only nine women landed a full run. Nine out of 52 runs. In a quality three-run final you will typically see a landed run from every athlete. Forty-three is an absurd number of incompletions. Shortly after the event, FIS released a statement which read, “We knew it was very difficult conditions for the riders, each rider had two opportunities to perform their run. Nobody is forced to go down and compete.” No we were not forced, but what was our alternative? To drop out of the Olympics?
FIS maintains that rider safety is their top priority, but they made no effort to get a consensus from those who’s safety was at stake. Consulting coaches does not count. The coaches weren’t riding the course and they weren’t competing. If safety is an issue an event director needs to speak directly to the athletes. It is our bodies on the line. We deserve an organization and event directors who will communicate with us and value our safety, not just make crude comments after the fact. It was careless and dangerous to run the event and at the very least, FIS could acknowledge that fact. Instead, they place blame on the athletes. It became our fault for not dropping out of the Olympic Games if we didn’t feel safe.
After slopestyle ended, there was a lot of chatter about the potential of a boycott of big air. There was a range of reactions for what we should do as a group. Although a boycott of big air could have sent a powerful message, it wasn’t the one that needed to be sent. Big air was our chance at redemption and to showcase the level of our sport to the world. Every woman in the field took that chance and rode at a level never before seen in our sport. Instead of walking away, we strapped in and showed everyone how far we have come.