Olympic slopestyle course plagued with unsafe conditions

By Emily Shawgo

One of the highlights of this year’s Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, was the new slopestyle snowboarding event that would be debuted.  However, the event has already been plagued with problems that have led to concerns about the safety of the athletes.  This has come as a great disappointment to those who have fought to get the event included in the Games, as well as the athletes who have been training and looking forward to being the inaugural competitors for the event.

Slopestyle is a different type of competition from other snowboarding events, and requires different skills and courses.  It involves doing several different types of tricks, such as jumps on and off rails, and avoiding obstacles on a downhill course.  Although this is inherently a dangerous sport because of the potential for falls and tripping, the athletes have trained to prevent serious injuries on these courses.

Perhaps that is why it has come as such a surprise that, before the Games have even officially begun, there have been so many freak accidents during practice that have resulted in injury.  Torstein Horgmo, a Norwegian competitor who was a favorite to medal in snowboarding events, took a nasty fall while practicing on a rail this week.  He broke his collarbone, eliminating him from the Olympics altogether.  Marika Enne of Finland was taken from the course by stretcher yesterday after suffering a head injury, the extent of which is still unknown.

These injuries combined with complaints by other competitors resulted in changes being made to the course.  The height of the jumps was reduced, and the rails were waxed (which prevents athletes from catching their boards on the edges as they try to dismount).  The general feedback has been that the changes make a big difference, but even more could be done.

Perhaps the biggest news of this event came when reigning 2-time halfpipe champion Shaun White announced that he would be withdrawing from the slopestyle event because of the risks.  White sustained a minor wrist injury this week, and did not want to jeopardize his chances in the halfpipe event by continuing to participate in the event that had caused so many injuries to other athletes.

Although the modifications to the course have been cited as beneficial, only time will tell whether they will be enough to prevent further injuries once the Games are officially underway.  The risk for injuries grows throughout the events as many people have run the same course over and over again, which can cause the quality of the course to deteriorate.  Perhaps incidents such as these will cause those in charge of the Olympics to take further steps in the future towards athlete safety.

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