KRASNAYA POLYANA, RUSSIA – It took nearly the entire Olympiad, but I finally found the happiest and hippest spot at these Games. It’s Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, home of Olympic snowboarding, nestled in the Caucasus Mountains.
Why here, you ask?
Because the guy in the knit hat shaped like a smaller version of Marge Simpson’s hair didn’t seem out of place. Neither did the older woman who rang her cowbell incessantly. Or the Russian bagpipe ensemble that rocked the crowd with some AC/DC.
How cool is this vibe? The dance music never stops, a DJ works the mike and, at one point Saturday, a group of break dancers showed off their moves in the grandstand.
“This is snowboarders,” said Brenda Reiter, whose son Justin competed in two snowboarding events for the U.S. “That’s how we roll.”
The Olympics are coming along for the (wild) ride. In a calculated effort to stay fresh and attract a younger viewing audience, the International Olympic Committee has welcomed extreme sports disciplines to its programming with open arms.
The IOC added 12 new events in these Olympics, and most of them would qualify as being gnarly. The U.S. tends to do well in extreme action sports, and its snowboarders contributed five medals (three gold) to the total count.
Snowboarding’s continued growth in mainstream appeal has made it a popular Olympic sport and brought new eyeballs to the Games. Traditionalists might not appreciate a well-executed double cork 1080, but the IOC isn’t about to try to put toothpaste back into the tube.
The shift in philosophy resonated as IOC sports director Christophe Dubi held a joint news conference with men’s snowboarding slopestyle gold medalist Sage Kotsenburg earlier in these Games.
“We need to have and to preserve our history,” Dubi said. “At the same time, we have to remain relevant and make sure that we capture new audience as well.”
Responded Kotsenburg: “We were all stoked to be in the Olympics. I think the world needed to see slopestyle because snowboarding is a different sport than figure skating or gymnastics. We’re all really different and individual people, and this is what the kids are doing nowadays.”
Snowboarders have brought new energy and big personalities to the Olympics. These guys and gals are a hoot. U.S. snowboarder Danny Davis provided an honest answer when asked how he and his teammates spend their free time in the Olympic Village.
“We’ve been shredding and taking care of our bodies ... we’ve been drinking beer,” he said.
Russian Alexey Sobolev wrote his phone number on his helmet and received about 2,000 responses, including nude pictures from female admirers.
“I always have really crazy ideas,” he said. “I’m enjoying the consequences.”
Then there’s 33-year-old Justin Reiter, who lived in the back of his pickup truck in Park City, Utah, for several months last summer in order to save money so that he could focus strictly on his training and not need to earn a paycheck.
Reiter trained eight hours a day and then crashed in his truck at night. A camper top covering the bed of his truck provided shelter. He tried parking overnight at a local Wal-Mart, but that lasted only two days.
“It was a little bit noisy,” he said. “With all the deliveries they get at night, you had the constant beeping from the semis so that didn’t work out too well.”
Reiter’s Olympic experience didn’t go as planned, either. He failed to make it out of qualifications in both parallel slalom events. He was disqualified Saturday after he missed a gate.
“I think those sacrifices enriched my life so it was worth it,” he said.
Reiter’s story wasn’t even the most bizarre that came out of the snowboarding competition. That honor belongs to American-born Vic Wild, who won two gold medals in parallel slalom for … Russia.
Unhappy with funding for parallel slalom by the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association, Wild became a Russian citizen after marrying his Russian girlfriend and then represented his adoptive country in these Games. He won his second gold medal on Saturday in parallel slalom.
The crowd roared as Wild crossed the finish line.
“Beyond believable,” he said.
Well stated. An American winning gold for Russia in snowboarding in the Olympics? Crazy talk, right?
Maybe, but that’s just how they roll these days.
Chip Scoggins firstname.lastname@example.org