Terje Haakonsen: Why I still hate the Olympics

TERJE HAAKONSEN, WHO FAMOUSLY BOYCOTTED THE NAGANO OLYMPICS IN 1998, SPEAKS OUT ABOUT WHY HE STILL THINKS SNOWBOARDING DOESN'T BELONG AT THE GAMES

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Illustration: Nicola Rowlands

I can’t believe people are still asking me why I boycotted the Olympics in ’98. Seriously? I’ve answered that question a thousand times.

I decided my opinion about the Olympics before snowboarding was sanctioned. I was asked by MTV Sports to go to the Lillehammer Games in ’94, but I already saw then what bullshit the Olympics were. I don’t regret anything.

The only person that didn’t really understand at the time was my Dad. Of course, he’s from the older generation and had been brought up to see the Olympics as the pinnacle. But for me it’s too much to swallow for one event. Even now, today, all the stuff the IOC demands – from nations, sponsors, athletes – it’s insane.

Most of the stuff is out there and is easy to find out about. Yet people still support it. Why? Because they think it’s what they need to do for money and fast fame. Even if that’s only going to happen to maybe one or two guys every fourth year. And let’s not forget: they stole snowboarding from us.

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Terje – the man, the myth, the legend. Photo: Jeff Curtes.

They gave FIS, a ski federation, control of snowboarding, totally for commercial reasons. We all know that. And today they act as if they invented snowboarding, invented slopestyle. There’s just no respect for the history and culture of snowboarding at all. We don’t need FIS or the IOC. We can handle snowboarding ourselves.

They also destroyed the International Snowboard Federation, which at that point had been doing fine. And we’re still feeling the repercussions of that today. Every four years we mess up our own tour just so people can go to this one event where basically they own you.

I mean, you can’t even pack your own bag, some nations say you can’t even use your own social media ‘cos they want to control all the media. The sponsorship is controlled, and people have to suddenly promote Coca Cola and McDonalds. It’s really hard to understand why you would go along with this.

There’s just no respect for the history and culture of snowboarding at all. We don’t need FIS or the IOC. We can handle snowboarding ourselves.

If anything I feel even more strongly about it today. When I was younger, I was just thinking about snowboarding, but now I see the bigger picture and the other stuff that goes on. The whole thing is corrupt – the IOC is run by a few people, when in reality it is something that should be owned by the whole world and to benefit sport, not just to make them money.

How would I change it? I would make it so that a host city would get the rights to sell the rings and the imagery of the Olympics themselves in every country around the world – and use that revenue to pay for all the new facilities, which that town could then use to improve local facilities.

Any extra money could then be used to support sport around the world. That’s how easy it could be. If people had values, we could start to change it. But people don’t seem to have values – or pride.

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The pipe at the five-ringed circus in Vancouver. Photo: Ed Blomfield.

It’s always easier for the top guys to take the lead. Less people are going to listen to the guy that comes tenth. It’s also really difficult to do something alone. I didn’t think everybody would be asking me the same questions this many years later when I made my decision.

But these days there are just so many more excuses to support the same thing that is pretty much destroying your own sport. How come people don’t look at the bigger picture? How come people don’t work together? I don’t understand it. It’s amazing really.

Why should the ordinary snowboarder care? Well it’s competitive snowboarding, and for me, I like to watch competitive snowboarding. And you know, because of the Olympic influence halfpipe has been the same for like ten years. It’s been the same format, the same pipes and you know what the guys are going to do.

It’s just so stagnant. Guys know what they have to do to get third or a place. There’s no spontaneous creativity, which was the thing that action sports was built on.

Ask Danny Kass. He hates the format where you have to just stick one run. If it was a jam format or a creative session, then he’d get the chance to express himself because he’s a creative freestyle rider – not a guy that spends his time on foam pits and trampolines for one golden run, like it’s gymnastics or something.

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Terje in action at the Arctic Challenge, which many view as a sort of anti-Olympics. Photo: Frode Sandbech

Yet the riders convince themselves that it’s important as it gets closer. I’m seeing it in Norway now. Riders are like ‘Well it’s the biggest contest in the world’. I’m like ‘Isn’t the biggest contest in the world the one where all the best guys are there?’ Doesn’t that have the most prestige, because you beat the best guys? No matter what name the contest has? One of the biggest comps I ever won was called G-Spot in Sweden.

It was some skate shop in Sweden that managed to put on an event and pull together some good prize money. Pretty much all the best riders were there, and for me that was one of my best wins. It wasn’t about world or European championship, or the name. It was about a contest with all the best riders there.

Ultimately, the whole qualification system isn’t built to make sure the best guys are there. It’s to have all the nations included so that they can sell the Rings to more territories, so they can get more commercial revenue for the IOC people. Who don’t pay tax on it either. To me, that’s not what snowboarding is about.

Terje Haakonsen was speaking to Matt Barr.

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