U.S. snowboarder Shaun White goes off a jump during snowboard slopestyle training at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics in Rosa Khutor. Source: Reuters
Alexey Mosko, RBTH
Although the Opening Ceremony will take place only on Friday, Feb. 7, the events at the Sochi Winter Olympic Games began Thursday, Feb. 6, with qualifications on the slopestyle course, which will be used both by snowboarders and freestyle skiers.
Shortly before the beginning of the qualifications, a number of athletes expressed concerns about the excessive complexity of the course in Rosa Khutor. Particularly mentioned were the high jumps, or ramps, and the small landing area.
High jumps translate to serious injuries
"These are the hugest jumps I have ever seen," said Russian freestyler Alexey Sobolev in an interview with Russian daily Izvestiya. "They are so high that even the more experienced athletes skirted them repeatedly for about the first 30 minutes. The ramps and rails are very varied, but the problem is that they appear to be crowded together so you find yourself too close to other athletes for comfort. The third jump is around 24 m long. The first time I used it felt like flying out a fourth-floor window. On the bright side, you get to feel like Yuri Gagarin."
The competitors' apprehensions about the slope were soon confirmed: during the Feb. 3 training session, Norwegian snowboarder Torstein Horgmo crashed and broke his collarbone. "It was on the first rail element," said Norwegian team coach Per Iver Grimsrud. Heigmo, who had been tipped as one of the likely contenders for gold in snowboarding at Sochi, was effectively ruled out of the competition.
Finland's women’s snowboarder Marika Enne sustained a head injury on the same course when she crash-landed on the final jump. Enne made it across the finish line but was then taken away on a litter. Fortunately for here, there was no concussion. On Jan. 5, U.S. snowboarder Shaun White pulled out of the slopestyle competition altogether, citing safety concerns.
Adjusting the course
These unfortunate incidents along with demands from coaches prompted organizers to take urgent measures.
Russian freestyle team coach Alexey Pokashnikov told Izvestia that the course has been improved: "The original course was gigantic. It has been tweaked now, including by lowering the jumps. The organizers took Horgmo's trauma seriously and acted accordingly. I attended today's training; our coaches and specialists told me that the course is now ideal, so there should be no more complaints," Pokashnikov said.
Athletes concur. "The course has been adjusted a bit to make it easier to pass. The landing areas have been raised and the jumps lowered so now you have enough room for slowing down," Russia's only women’s slopestyle athlete Anna Mirtova told RIA Novosti news agency.
The Sochi slopestyle course is 2,038 feet long; its jumps are designed to grow in height towards the lower portion of the slope. The idea is to give the viewers located downhill a better look of the athletes' performance.
The course was put together under the supervision of German designer Andres Forsell, who had previously designed similar courses for a number of international sporting events. He is known for his complex and dangerous designs.