Over the past 16 years, snowboarding has grown from a niche Olympic sport with only four events, to a 10-event winter games powerhouse that draws a lot of attention and creates some serious hype around riders.
When competition gets under way at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Canada’s Olympic Snowboarding team will be looking to increase its medal tally and to catch up to the Americans, who have dominated the podium since snowboarding’s arrival in the Olympics in 1998.
Matthew Arena, president of the SAIT Ski and Snowboard Club, is excited to watch the showdown between Canada and the U.S.
“Whenever you have a rivalry going on, especially between countries, it always makes the competition that much better to watch,” said Arena.
In the past four Olympics, the Americans have won a total of 22 medals, to Canada’s five, and they hold six of nine medals in the half-pipe.
When snowboarding was first introduced at Nagano, Japan in 1998, Canada only entered nine athletes. This time around, 24 athletes have been sent to Sochi to bring Canada some highly-anticipated snowboarding glory.
“I’ve always watched the Winter Olympics, and it seems like Canada has always been a few points or seconds away from glory. I think this year will be different. I follow snowboarding competitions all year long and Canada has been all over the podium,” said Arena.
Three returning Canadian Olympic medalists will be sent to Sochi, two of whom have already won Olympic gold.
Jasey-Jay Anderson, 38, will be looking to win another gold medal after winning gold in Parallel Giant Slalom at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver.
Despite battling a recent wrist injury, Maelle Ricker will be racing her way towards her second Olympic gold in snowboard cross, along with her fellow Canadian Dominique Maltais, who got silver in 2006 in Torino, Italy.
“It seems like there is a lot more build-up for these Winter Games than in previous years. I think that’s all because of the hype about this big showdown between Canada and the U.S.” said Arena.
The man responsible for two of U.S.’s Olympic gold medals is snowboarding juggernaut Shaun White, who is the best bet for gold for the Americans in Sochi.
But 20-year-old prodigy from Regina, Mark McMorris, is also looking to bring his country the gold, and with his recent results in international competition has been labelled as White’s rival. Over the past few years, the two have been battling it out in competition as McMorris has been climbing the international rankings.
For the first time in Olympic history, Slopestyle will be added to the competition, an event in which riders perform tricks down a 635m course comprised of various obstacles such as hips, jumps, rails, and boxes in an attempt to impress judges.
In recent competition, slopestyle has been Canada’s specialty and with results at the Dew Tour and X-Games 2014, Canada will be expected to medal in this discipline.
In December at the 2013 Dew Tour, McMorris dominated the slopestyle event, and took home gold, scoring an almost unheard-of 97.80.
McMorris is the first athlete to land a Triple Cork 1440, a trick that might be needed to bring Canada the gold.
More recently at the 2013 X-Games in Aspen, Canadian Olympian Max Parrot won gold in both Big Air and Slopestyle events, pulling back-to-back triple corks in his final run to take the lead.
McMorris took silver in slopestyle, after missing out on his opportunity for gold in his 3rd and final run. McMorris fractured his rib while hitting a 25-foot rail on his final run, but is still planning to compete in Sochi. The fracture happened on a lateral rib, and McMorris still has enough mobility to be able to perform tricks.
White decided to opt out of this year’s X-Games in order to focus on the Olympics. Had he participated and won gold, he would have been the first athlete to win seven consecutive X-Game gold medals.
“To me it seems like Shaun White’s career is maybe slowing down, and McMorris is on his way up. I’m really excited to watch and see what happens with these two riders,” said Arena.
The potential for Canada’s success during these Olympics comes as no surprises to Nadia M’Seffar, the high performance manager at Canada Snowboard.
She says it’s all because of the development programs that have been put in place as a result of the 1988 Olympics in Calgary.
“I’ve been with Canada Snowboard for 15 years now and every year we step up athlete development.”
“With every year it seems we’re able to pick up new sponsors and get more funding, and it has really helped progress snowboarding, and winter sports in general, in this country to a whole new level,” said M’Seffar.
WinSport Canada, formerly the Canadian Olympic Development Association (CODA) was established in 1956 to represent Calgary on a bid to host the Winter Olympics.
It has since become a not-for-profit organization that supports not only Canadain high-performance athletes, but introduces thousands of Calgarians to winter sports each year.
“It’s thanks to organizations like this that the level of competition is so high,” said M’Seffar.
“Athletes are provided with world-class facilities and coaching, they can focus on progression and work on becoming the best athletes they can be.
“It’s the legacy of the 1988 Olympics in Calgary that has led to all of this. All of the sponsors, the funding and the state-of-the-art facilities are all here because of those Olympic Games in ’88,” said M’Seffar.
If Canadian athletes can overcome their injuries and live up to their expectations, then Canada could walk away with more hardware than they’ve won since snowboarding’s Olympic debut, as well as put on a great show for the spectators.
“This could be a huge pivotal moment for Canada. I think these Olympics in Sochi will be the beginning of a long run of success for Canadian snowboarding,” said M’Seffar.