Words and photos by Tristan Kennedy
The men's slopestyle finals at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics has just finished, and I am an emotional wreck.
Like every other British snowboarder (and probably every other snowboarder around the world if we're honest!) I've spent the past few hours feeling high on a heady mixture of pride, intensity and excitement as I've watched the sport we love stand front and centre on the world stage.
While today's final was amazing purely from a riding point of view - several of the dudes (including gold medallist Sage Kotsenburg and our very own Billy Morgan) busted out tricks they'd never done before - it was also amazing for snowboarding more generally.
Today's final was amazing purely from a riding point of view - several of the dudes (including gold medallist Sage Kotsenburg and our very own Billy Morgan) busted out tricks they'd never done before.
Because with the assembled mass of the world's media watching (their lenses bristling like porcupine quills from the photo pit) the riders put on probably the best slopestyle show ever seen.
And if you listened carefully from where I was standing in the Rosa Khutor extreme park, you could hear the last vestiges of anti-snowboard feeling crumbling in the face of their onslaught of radness. Today was the day that the establishment fell in love with snowboarding.
"You see her Royal Highness?" asked Paddy Mortimer of British Ski and Snowboard. "Princess Anne, yeah. She's standing just over there. She was only supposed to watch the semi-finals but she enjoyed it so much apparently she changed her arrangements so she could stay on and see Billy and Jamie in the final."
And it wasn't just the royal patron of the British Olympic Association who was feeling the stoke (how crazy is that idea by the way: A royal getting stoked on snowboarding - someone send her a board for her next birthday will they?)
Princess Anne enjoyed the semi-finals so much apparently she changed her arrangements so she could stay on and see Billy and Jamie in the final.
As Aimee Fuller interviewed Jamie Nicholls for BBC Five Live after the event (which in itself is pretty cool - Aimee Fuller on the BBC's main sports radio station!) she said: "Apparently there's a tennis player on Twitter who's a bit of a fan of yours. He's quite a good tennis player, a British lad, can you guess who it is?"
Jamie's reply came back: "Andy Murray? No way!" And he wasn't wrong. The reluctant favourite of middle England mums everywhere had been tweeting his support for both Billy and Jamie as they went for it in the final.
come on Billy Morgan!!! makes it look so easy #goforgold
— Andy Murray (@andy_murray) February 8, 2014
wrote Murray (current twitter following, 2.38 million!) before following up with:
Jamie Nicholls just smashed it! Any chance of 2 medals here?
— Andy Murray (@andy_murray) February 8, 2014
As Billy put it in his inimitable style after the event. "Wow, I'm blatantly gonna get bare followage off of that!"
Meanwhile Clare Balding, who famously put her foot in it with her comments about snowboarders at the 2006 winter Olympics, not only came down to watch with the Team GB crew and Whitelines in the 'Brit pit' but also seemed genuinely amped. And not just on how well the Brits were doing, but also on the event as a whole.
She did still manage to get a dig in about snowboarding style though, saying: "the thing I like about him [Stale Sandbech, who was on course at the time] is that his trousers actually fit." (Cue one of the skiers explaining that tight pants are pretty common these days... Please don't change Clare, we love you!)
In general though, the BBC covered themselves in glory. The decision to put someone who knows snowboarding as well as Ed Leigh does in charge of commentary is inspired. Appointing Tim Warwood as the Robin to his Batman (or as our friends at Onboard put it, the Goose to his Maverick) is a stroke of genius.
(Quote of the day has to go to Ed though: "Riding switch is like writing left-handed while wearing a chip hat and being attacked by seagulls")
Quote of the day has to go to Ed Leigh: "Riding switch is like writing left-handed while wearing a chip hat and being attacked by seagulls"
And then there's the sheer amount of airtime they've given to snowboarding. Billy and Jamie were live on the Beeb with Hazel Irvine this morning. Their runs were shown live on BBC Two, while Aimee Fuller commented on them with Will Perry on Radio Five Live.
In an hour or two the boys will both be ferried down to the main Olympic Park on the Black Sea coast where they'll appear live on the BBC's prime-time highlights reel (you can tune in from 7pm tonight apparently!) and I'm sure they'll be popping up again over the course of the next few days.
Not only that, but the rest of the UK's media was out in force too, and lapping up everything shred-related. At the request of British Ski and Snowboard's press officer, Whitelines spent a good half hour explaining the finer points of triple corks to journalists from The Independent, The Scotsman and the like.
There was a lot of love coming from governing bodies too. After watching Sage Kotsenburg and Stale Sandbech bouncing on the barriers by the edge of the branded scoring area and generally pissing about, Whitelines had the pleasant experience of running into Marcel Looze, a snowboarder who's pretty high up in FIS (don't look so surprised, they're way more common than you'd think).
He explained: "Some people on my team wanted them to be like the alpine athletes. Like 'you must stand there'. But I said to them, 'no, you must let them do what they like, this is why people love snowboarding."
He's not wrong either. On an official level from Team GB, there was nothing but love for Billy, Jamie and snowboarding as a whole today from the likes of Paddy Mortimer. As the BSS performance director he was instrumental in earning the funding from UK Sport that made it possible for them to get to the games and the fact that he's a massive fan of what the boys are up to can only bode well for the future.
More funding for UK snowboarding means more chances for promising young riders to be able to do what they love for a living.
In fact, their performance may already be paying dividends in terms of funding. Standing next to Whitelines today were two representatives from Adidas - not Adidas Snowboarding (the people who sponsor Blauvelt, Keegan et al) but Adidas' "performance" division. The one that pours money into people like Jessica Ennis.
They were watching the event with evident interest, and there's already talk of potential sponsorship deals in the future for the British Park & Pipe team. This kind of mainstream interest in our opinion can only be a good thing. More funding for UK snowboarding means more chances for promising young riders to be able to do what they love for a living.
Of course the establishment falling in love with snowboarding may not be to everyone's tastes. There are no doubt people who will argue that snowboarding doesn't need it, and that it's somehow selling out. But for us there's nothing sell out about Sage Kotsenburg (a man who does grabs even we don't understand) being crowned as slopestyle's first ever Olympic champion.
There's nothing sell out about Billy Morgan trying a brand new trick (that triple 1620) when it didn't matter, or throwing a laid-out backflip just for shits and giggles. And there's nothing sell out about Jamie Nicholls doing a style run of cab 5s and front 3s in an Olympic final.
We loved watching the establishment - and the world at large - fall in love with snowboarding today. But watching the world fall in love with snowboarding on snowboarding's own terms? We loved that even more.
As the legend Todd Richards put it so succinctly:
This is one of the best days for snowboarding ever.
— toddrichards (@btoddrichards) February 8, 2014
Well said Todd, well said.