I wish the worst thing about the women’s slopestyle contest in the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics had been something trivial, such as the announcers calling athletes “girls” instead of women. Instead we got the blatant endangerment of athletes’ lives. After two delays of the qualifiers, the IOC said “fuck it” (we’re paraphrasing, of course) and reneged on its promise to riders that they wouldn’t make them compete if conditions were dangerous. Just prior to this announcement, men’s GS was cancelled due to weather, but the snowboard show must go on! And in lieu of a qualifer-then-finals format, all 27 female snowboarders took their two medal contention runs into 30+mph winds.
As a viewer, shit was terrifying. My gut clenched every time a rider missed a landing, arms frantically rolling down the windows. While the commentators blamed failed tricks on lack of speed and bails on ‘olympic nerves,’ I listened to the wind clearly howling in the mic as each rider fucked it and hucked it.
“Women’s Slopestyle Finals…uhhhm…pretty much a shit show…” Cheryl Maas said. “Everybody could clearly see that the wind was affecting almost every rider in either coming too short or overshooting the jump, so it was a real gamble. It wasn’t a contest anymore, it was who had the most luck with the wind.That was not a fun contest for no one, no matter how bad, or good you were.”
Anna Gasser, via instagram
Jamie Anderson was reportedly doing her best to psych both herself up and her fellow riders, but no one else was really feeling it. And their concerns were ignored. Spencer O’Brien explained, “At the very least … our opinions are taken into consideration. And that wasn’t done here, on either day. I think 90 percent of the women didn’t want to ride today.”
The reality is when you are asking an athlete in a vulnerable position to choose between their dream/career and their personal safety, both options could be detrimental. Their expectation is that people in charge will treat them like humans and not money-makers. To sit out the Olympics could very well cost a rider sponsors, or create other political turmoil that would make them suffer in the long run. But to compete could end your career, too.
Others in the peanut gallery tried to pass it off as women being pussies or needing a smaller course. But Maas had a different reaaction. “If there wasn’t any wind on the course, I think we would have had seen a really good show. The jumps were really nice on the good weather day that we had in the beginning” she said.
And let us not forget women are killing it. Hailey Langland landed the first double cork in female snowboarding history at X Games in 2017. Anna Gasser won X Games in 2018, and qualified for the Olympics, with a double underflip. And Jamie Anderson shocked commentators by not doing a double backflip at the Games. The fact that only 9 out of 27 women had a clean run is incredibly unusual at this level and with these riders.
“I think not only me, but everybody is frustrated women’s snowboarding didn’t look good at all,” Maas said. “Once you finally get to have such a big crowd..and then it looks like we were snowboarding six years ago, while the women’s snowboarding has progressed so much. I think that’s the biggest frustration.”