Here. We. Go. The buildup is done and men’s slopestyle is in the Olympics. In Sochi. At Rosa Khutor. At the Extreme Park venue. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to join the festivities until two nights ago. Most of the time, getting in just before for the main event is advantageous, but in this case it seems like one of the most insane weeks of skiing ever took place behind closed doors with only the 32 competing skiers and their coaches seeing the immense progression. Following up Bobby Brown’s first-ever triple cork, which fed into the insanity of last week’s X Games slopestyle and big air competitions, the mandatory trick is clear. And I, clearly, saw a lot of triples today. Yet it was also not hard to see that extended training time afforded this contest meant the progression had wound down today and that I had missed the big leaps. Today was all about cleaning things up and keeping focus before tomorrow’s final day (beginning with prelims at 10:15 a.m. local time before the final at 1:30 p.m.). Here are some random notes about today and tomorrow. Don’t forget to enjoy the moment and definitely follow @freeskierlive on Twitter and check back to freeskier.com/olympics for an update after prelims and a full rundown after the gold medal is decided.
The course, in general is good. The landings are immense, the jumps are well shaped and there are many options on the jib features. But let’s get the gripes out of the way now:
The take-offs are long, which to some competitors is a negative because they lose so much momentum through the transition. With quicker takeoffs, a quick speed check will adjust speed. Of course, in the much tighter X Games course, the guys sometimes complain that they need more setup time. So, ultimately, someone wins and everyone has something to complain about.
The jibs although varied do not seem, to my eye, to live up to the standard of the jumps. The rails are definitely in the “fun” size range. Specifically of note, the cannon box looks to be shorter and less impressive than those in other events. Bonus though, the babushka bonk is finely tuned to be funny and usable.
The weather is amazing for a fun day with friends or a photo shoot. Today though, with the large field, training took a toll on the course. The takeoffs were fine, but with 60 degree, sunny weather, there is no way to maintain the landings without a slip after every five or so runs. Normally running last is an advantage, but if the weather holds, skiers late in the order will be crossing fingers and toes that they don’t land in a slush hole or ride switch through a monstrous pile of melted snow snakes.
Onward, to the triples. The jumps, I will reiterate, are big. Triples on the final two are not going to be hucked. And the variety of axes and grabs thrown today make the tricks interesting (and not in a “Jackass presents” kind of way). I won’t claim to know everything that went down or might go down tomorrow, but the four or five I saw today were good and not just “double ten mute plus another” style. At least half of the field appeared to be throwing dubs on the final jump that were set hard enough that they needed to open up with all four limbs to stop their rotation. That’s not going to be the case tomorrow. As the bumper sticker says, “No Fear”.
The word of the day was fun. Although I witnessed one mega-freakout, every other athlete the Freeskier team talked with was having a blast.
Judging this shit is going to be very difficult. Ten dollars says that people will be debating. Here’s why: the level is insanely high and the nuances that will separate the top four or five athletes are going to be easily pushed towards the opinion (or nationality or brand affiliation) of the speaker. I’ll leave any more discussion of that topic ’til after the (gold) dust settles.
Don’t expect the angles in the photos above to be repeated tomorrow. I’ll be standing behind five or ten “pool” photographers shooting straight up with monstrous lenses to best capture the facial expression of the skiers as they miss their grab (against a blue sky). And, like Zoolander, we’re only allowed to go left, all the photo positions are on the skiers’ left of the course. But hey, this is the damn Olympics of photography, and if I can’t perform under these conditions I should just quit.
Perhaps the best thing to come out of the Olympics is the fashion-forwarding of skiers. Le Croix sponsors the French ski team, and the pipe dudes, Benoit Valentin and Toto Krief in particular were looking sweet with scarfs, tennis shoes and spiffy pants during slope training. Even the dreadlocked one, Henrik Harlaut, looked downright Swedish in his well tailored suit during a press conference a few days back. And finally, Jossi Wells can break out of his fashion rut by sporting the colors of his home nation… wait, what? Of course they’re called the All Blacks and he’s still sporting the darkness head to toe with only a couple ferns and his beard to break the darkness.
Final thought, enjoy the moment, skiers and spectators alike.