The boarders are out again on Wednesday with the parallel giant slalom. These Olympics have been captivated by the sight of men and women competing in races in which the first past the finish line wins. It has been a welcome contrast to the traditional Alpine sports which are all against the clock.
Parallel giant slalom is a mixture of the two possibilities – the riders are head to head in a knockout competition, but boarding down two slalom tracks separately and simultaneously. They then switch sides, with each rider boarding down the other slalom track. The combined times for the runs are added together to find a winner.
It should be gripping. But not everyone in the snowboard world is happy. There is a conflict between those who believe in the roots of their sport, that it is about fun and “free-riding” in fantastic places, and others that are enjoying the competition.
Bob Klein is in the thick of the debate as the agent for Seth Wescott, who won the men’s snowboard cross event last week. He says it is hard for snowboard crossers to make any money as the snowboard magazines and film-makers are still interested mainly in pictures and stories about boarders doing their stuff on glaciers, for the sheer thrill of it.
“We have a huge bunch of guys who make a very good living only travelling round cities in the world where there is snow and looking for handrails,” he told me on Tuesday. To explain, he means they make films of each other doing boarding tricks on the banisters of outdoor staircases.
Wescott has been making his money at these Olympics in ways that might make a boarder shudder in his trendy Volcom clothing. Last night he was paid for meeting some employees of the US insurer John Hancock.
Klein, who works for the agency Octagon, says there are contradictions in the sport, that its free image is not all it seems. “There are a lot of hypocrises in snowboarding. If you’re not wearing certain clothes, riding a certain board in a certain style, then you’re not cool.”
Volcom’s motto, he points out, is “Youth Against Establishment”. The company launched an initial public offering of its shares on the Nasdaq market last year.
The debate over gold medals or sliding down the banisters is seemingly played out in the minds of the boarders themselves, sometimes in mid-competition.
The notorious lowlight of these Games so far has been the sight of Lindsey Jacobellis, on the verge of winning gold in the women’s snowboard cross, attempting a mild stunt on one of the last jumps of the course, falling and letting a rival steal in for the win.
Jacobellis did not have to try to grab her board in mid-air, but she admitted she was enjoying the moment and trying to share her enthusiasm with the crowd. To the old fogies, she exactly underlined that her kind are not ready to be Olympians.
And to some of the young boarders too. On an internet message board, Burtonboy19 in New York state wrote: “She pretty much gave Americans and snowboarders a bad name by showing off... even if she would have won after showing off she wouldn’t have deserved it...it’s called SPORTSMANSHIP..it’s tha Olympics, only the best of the best...”
But T.H.E.Shocker from Illinois reminded the message board of a greater reality about the future of the Olympic movement. “Seriously people, she took silver even after that crash. Who gives a [expletive deleted] if it gives snowboarding a bad name? We still know we saved the mountains from going bankrupt.”
Klein says that Jacobellis missed this year’s Winter X Games in Aspen – the main showcase for snowboarding – to concentrate on the Olympics. It’s a shame she lost her concentration with seconds to go, muddled by the sport’s inner turmoil.