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Two weeks ago, the International Olympic Committee met in Mexico to supposedly decide whether or not new winter events like ski halfpipe and snowboard slopestyle would be included in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. In the end, they only decided that they needed more time to deliberate, explaining in an official statement that:
"Before taking a final decision, the EB [Executive Board] ... would like to consider the outcome of the respective World Championships which will take place during the winter season in 2011."
Terje Håkonsen, snowboarding's most-outspoken Olympic-controversy muckraker, promptly made a counter-statement inviting the IOC's Executive Board president Jacques Rogge to come to The Arctic Challenge (Haakon's signature event) to "learn more about snowboarding and slopestyle."
Håkonsen's statement was met with some confusion in the snowboard community. Comment boards lit up, offline conversations were had. Was he upset that the IOC didn't think slopestyle was a legitimate enough event to include in the Olympics without further deliberation? And if so, how could the man who has been against the Olympic halfpipe event, with dogged and unwavering intensity, since he first declined to compete in it 12 years ago possibly be fighting for slopestyle's inclusion in these very same Games?
|Behold the man with all the power: IOC President Jacques Rogge.|
If you haven't been following the TTR/FIS/Olympic-snowboarding drama over the years it would be impossible to get you up to speed here. It is confusing even for those of us who are actually paying attention. By now we are all familiar with Håkonsen's stance, which is as true for him now as it was in 1997: To say that it's okay for a snowboarding event to be run by a ski organization because both sports take place on snow is like a saying a cat-herding event could being run by a bunch of dogs, just because they both have fur. It doesn't make sense.
What is interesting is Håkonsen has been the only snowboarder of international recognition to take a deliberate, high-stakes stand on this, though he is certainly not the one who cares. But as Olympic snowboarding has continued on its merry way, still under the strong ruling arm of the FIS, and become a television ratings hit, his opinion has faded into the background. It would take an strong athlete to walk away from the kind of exposure the contest would bring, if s/he had the chance of making the podium, just to bring the point up for debate again. This, perhaps, says more about the difference between snowboarding now than back when Terje was Shaun White v.1 than anything. But that, also, is a subject for a different article.
Two new developments, however, have brought the issue, and Terje's stance on it, back into the foreground.
The first lies in the assertion that the IOC Executive Board is going to look at "World Championships" of respective sports to determine if slopestyle is ready to be included in the Olympics. Until this year there has been no officially-sanctioned "World Championships" of snowboarding. The FIS (the Ski Federation that oversees the Olympic snowboarding events) World Cup big air that took place in London last weekend was the first event of the 10/11 season that will count towards the "newly invented overall World Cup for Snowboard Freestyle" award. This means the IOC will be looking at a brand new contest series, run by an organization that runs snowboard events mostly as an afterthought. Which leads us to development two.
There's this cool-cat Norwegian who's part of the IOC Executive Board who goes by the name of Gerhard Heiberg. Though it is unconfirmed at this time, Mr. Heiberg has been reported to have said in an interview on Norwegian television that the IOC might consider looking at other "high-level" contests like the X Games to make a determination about slopestyle. And it is in this context that Håkonsen's statement was issued: If the IOC needs to look at world-class slopestyle events to make a decision about the event shouldn't they check out ones that have been around for awhile? Of course Håkonsen is partial to the TTR, but the TTR series, though it is by no means without flaws, is an ever-evolving beast that morphs over time based on the feedback of the snowboarders involved in it. Experiments are made with formats and judging criteria that are refined as they are put into action and evaluated in real time. Is there not value in looking at the progress that has been made by non-FIS-run event-running coalitions when deciding not only if slopestyle should be an event, but how the contest should be run?
If the IOC seriously starts to consider that there are other organizations out there running slopestyle contests that are good enough and big enough to be evaluated, then maybe the question of why those organizations aren't more involved in the World's Biggest Contest will start to be asked by people who make decisions that affect the way the snowboarding is presented to the world every four years.
Or maybe not. But, hey, it's a dream worth fighting for, isn't it?