It’s the oldest debate in snowboarding – older even than whether or not Shaun White is cool – but it’s the one that will never end, only pausing now and then to take a breath. But have the Olympics changed anything?
Every since someone span more than a 540 in the pipe people have bitched and whined about excessive spinning; Todd Richards got shit for it in the nineties, Shaun White got shit for it in the noughties and anyone with a gymnastic background gets shit for it now. Case in point being Billy Morgan’s triple rodeo; an amazing feat and a world first, but it gave him a lot of hate from the internet.
first times are all basically a bit crap. Think back to the end of your virginity, need I say more?
That's how progression works, any time the bar is raised it is by definition it's a first and first times are all basically a bit crap. Think back to the end of your virginity, need I say more?
The foundations are set then other's can build on it, a great example for snowboarding is the 1620; Ulrik Badertcher landed the first in 2009 and was ridiculed for his tindy grab, fast forward five years and Sage combines the same trick with a seatbelt added on and wins the Olympic gold to great acclaim.
But that's what style is, making difficult shit look good enough to get the praise of the majority, essentially an advanced version of polishing a turd. Luckily for us critics those nuggets turn golden more often than not.
In the past when it came to judging the tendency was to complain that higher scores were given out for the craziest tricks, the prime example being Shaun White's perfect 100 in 2012, an undeniably amazing run, but it did include a hand down.
After the first event in Sochi it was evident that the judges here had been told to look for a little more, penalising anything other than perfectly excecuted hits
But not any more; with the Olympics looming everyone thought it was going to be the same old story once again, especially with FIS running the show, an organisation that also controls ski aerials. After the first event in Sochi it was evident that the judges here had been told to look for a little more, penalising anything other than perfectly excecuted hits and marking down some of the tricks that had been tipped as must haves.
Six different guys threw backside triples in the finals but they were obviously questioning if the trick's proliferation meant it was really that difficult, relatively speaking. Riders like Sage Kotsenburg and Stale Sandbech were rewarded for putting their own stamp on big tricks, the former with his unique grabs and the latter boning out every trick to the max.
In the women's events this ethos was even more obvious; ground-breaking 1080s were thrown in both the slope and pipe, but 'thrown' was the operative word. I'm not belittling Sina Candrian's first ever 10 in women's slopestyle history, but it was scrappy, especially when you stack it up against Jamie Anderson's breathtaking switch back 5, floated and held as good as any I've ever seen.
In the halfpipe too progression with style was the order of the day; Kelly Clark has that front 1080 in her bag, but she can't yet grab it with any conviction, Torah Bright and Kaitlyn Farrington upped the ante with smaller but more technical tricks. Yes Torah's run was generally better, but in a true overall impression judging system that flat bottom hit off her back nine was probably what cost her that vital half point and a second gold.
In the men's pipe it was a slightly different story, purely subjectively Ayumu Hirano and Taku Hiraoka were the style masters in the final, but iPod's mix of technicality, amplitude and execution gave the judges what they were looking for. While El Blanco's run was huge and impressive, his shin grabs, reverts and flat landings obviously took their toll on his overall impression score.
Sadly we weren't able to see how Danny Davis, The Dude, would stack up against the medals on the night. He scored highly in the qualifiers with his high tech but low spinning run, many riders agreeing they'd rather try double corks than a switch method. His mix of style and technicality might have been exactly what the judges were after but his falls in the final meant we weren't to see what his final hit was to be, or his score. But that's all ifs and buts, what's important in the end is what happened on the day.
So did style win at the 'Lympics? I would argue no, not exactly. The judges awarded the highest points to those who mixed progression with execution across a whole run, it's my opinion that the 'best' runs on the days went to the most clinical riders, not that I'd call that a dirty word in this instance. Our perception of the riders, particularly Kotsenburg, is probably what caused many to initially put the medals down to pure style.
The riders singled out in the image heading this article all showed on a world stage what style really means to snowboarding
But what undeniably did win in Sochi was another, less judge-able, aspect of style: attitude. The riders singled out in the image heading this article all showed on a world stage what style really means to snowboarding; Sage and Jamie were gracious in victory, pleasing mums around the world with their excitable camaraderie, and The Dude and Torah both received their scores with genuine smiles. If there's ever been a better advertisement for snowboarding then I must have missed it.
And if you want further proof just check out this instagram of Todd Richards cruising side hits with Danny Davis and Greg Bretz, just two days after their final. No one really loses in snowboarding because hey, they're snowboarding; hopefully that's what we showed the world.