Monday, January 18, 2010

Top 5 Olympic Snowboard Heroes

Snowboarding first appeared in the Nagano Olympics in 1998 and in just three games it’s already notched up more than its fair share of controversy. This article takes a look at the alternative Olympic heroes - they didn’t all win in the old-fashioned gold-medal sense, but they all left their mark on snowboard history. Here’s hoping the guys at next month’s Vancouver Olympics can live up to the legacy of these Accidental Heroes. 

Before snowboarding had even made it’s first appearance, the controversy had started…

Terje Haakonsen
Terje is of course a bona fide snowboarding legend - Not normally the type of guy that would make it into the Accidental Hero category, but he makes it in here because he chose not to appear in the Olympics despite being the most dominant snowboarder of the 90’s. He chose to boycott the games because of the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) decision to give the responsibility of snowboarding qualifications and rule-setting to the, previously anti-snowboarding, International Ski Federation (FIS), leaving snowboarding’s own International Snowboarding Federation (ISF) out in the cold. This made about as much sense at the time as the current IOC plans that if skateboarding ever appears in the Olympics it will be through the cycling governing body.

Terje was the best-known snowboarder amongst a group of top snowboarders who boycotted the 1998 Negano games because they believed that having the FIS running snowboarding at Olympics would cause confusion and damage the sport in the long-term. 12 years later, they were proved to be correct and this complicated problem still affects the sport. Any sport with more than one governing body is a confusing thing and the sports themselves often suffer; just take a look back at how this sort of scuffle damaged IndyCar racing.

Terje continues to be one of the best snowboarders around. When you have time, here is a 25 minute long video of some of his best bits. His elastic recovery from a potentially leg-snapping
crash at 20:25 is worth a look.

Oh, and he married a lesbian. 

Terje Haakonsen will never just be remembered just for his Olympic controversy, but this next guy will only really remembered for his…

Ross Rebagliati
Rebagliati was the first person to win an Olympic snowboarding gold when he won the now axed giant slalom event in 98, but it was after the race that things got interesting, when he tested positive for marijuana and had his medal taken away. He claimed the culprit was second-hand smoke that he'd been exposed to at a party less than a month before. "Honestly, I didn't go to the Olympics with a bag of weed," he said. "I hadn't been smoking for months and months to pass the stupid drug tests. I wasn't into doping, and it wasn't like [marijuana] was performance enhancing."
Rebagliati appealed the ruling, and 32 hours later his medal was reinstated. It turned out that once they looked they found marijuana wasn't one of the substances banned by either the IOC or the FIS. Rebagliati was in the middle of a 6 hour interview by the Japanese police when word reached him that his medal had been restored.

On the back of these events Rebagliati has survived as a ‘home-grown’ hero to weed smoking Canadians, a hero to Kyle from Morinville and a minor celebrity in Canada even as his snowboard career has tailed off. 
He currently has a few projects on the go:

  • His newly released book on the history of snowboarding, ‘Off the Chain’. It would be interesting to see how much of that book is dedicated to his gold medal. 
  • He appeared in both the straight to the DVD bargain bin movies ‘Shred’ and ‘Revenge of the Boarding School Dropouts'. 
  • He runs an aptly named snowboard training camp RASTA (Rebagliati Alpine Snowboard Training Academy). See him talk in his funny accent about it here...

But at least Ross Rebagliati will be remembered for something. Does anyone remember this next guy?

Martin Freinademetz
Number 3 on the list and it’s yet another incident from Negano. Martin Freinademetz was a pro-snowboarder from Austria who finished seventh in the slalom race that Rebagliati won. Not a great result, but he wasn’t finished there, because he is best remembered for being expelled from the games as a result of a drunken rampage. He caused $4,000 of damage by spilling beer on a switchboard in his hotel. Less-notable other damage included a coffee cup and some white tabletops that were marked on with a felt-tip pen. 

Freinademetz is now a relatively unknown motorbike racer

All three of these incidents didn’t get snowboarding at the Olympics off to a good start. In fact Sports Illustrated described it asthe single worst debut by a sport in Olympic history” in their article ‘A Whack Start For A Goofy Sport’. 

Fortunately things good better in Salt Lake in 2002 when there was nothing more controversial than a dodgy haircut. 

Then in 2006 we got back on track with…

"Lucky" Lindsey Jacobellis
Torino 2006 saw the snowboarder cross event added to the Olympic line up. Lindsey Jacobellis came into the event on the back of X Games wins in 03, 04 and 05 and was one of the favourites to win the Olympic final. What happened next is best left to the video…

Wow, you forget how tough those snowboarder cross tracks get. There was people getting chewed up and spat out all over the shop.
Jacobellis was taken apart by the press after the crash for not taking the event seriously, but she probably showed the type of attitude to snowboarding that I most recognise. "I was having fun," Jacobellis said. "Snowboarding is fun. I was ahead. I wanted to share my enthusiasm with the crowd. I messed up. Oh well, it happens." 

The following year Jacobellis crashed out after leading the snowboarder cross final at the X Games and she started to grow a reputation for cracking under pressure. Fortunately her luck turned around and she has gone on to win the last 3 X Games and the last 2 Worlds. She’s giving the Olympics another go this year and I hope she does well, and by that I’m hoping she pulls off at least a 360 or a flip.

Here’s a nice bit of irony, if not a nice piece of music. This is The Donnas featuring the US women’s snowboarding team, including Jacobellis, and the song “Fall behind Me”.

Do two ski jumpers add up to one snowboarder? OK, the math might be very dubious, but given snowboarding has only appeared in three Olympics we find ourselves short of a hero, so we take a look at the best that that rest can give…

Matti Nykanen & Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards
Matti Nykanen and Eddie The Eagle comprise both the winner and the last place athletes from both of the ski-jumping events at the 1988 Calgary Olympics .

Matti Nykanen was Finland's greatest sportsman, winner of four Olympic gold and a record 46 world cup competitions. His high point came at the 1988 games, when he became the first ski-jumper to win gold medals on both the normal and large hill. Three years later, aged just 28, he quit ski-jumping. Since then he has; gone to prison for stabbing someone in a finger-pulling contest; fallen asleep at the wheel and driving off a bridge; worked for a premium-rate sex phoneline; got engaged to a 17-year-old Estonian girl then called it off a week later; and he found God.

The Guardian have a nice article about him and here is a snippet: 
In the introduction to his recent biography, Matti Nykänen wrote: "I don't have a private life, but I do indeed have a bad image." To Nykänen's list of personal achievements – ski-jumping legend, pop musician, male stripper, violent drunk and Scando-tabloid fixture – we can probably add the title Master of Understatement.

Finland's most ubiquitous newspaper celebrity doesn't just have a bad image – he has a terrible one. And it took another blow last week when he was arrested for a grisly festive assault on his wife. According to newspaper reports, Nykänen spent Christmas Day in a prison cell after stabbing sausage millionairess Mervi Tapola, his frequently estranged spouse, with a kitchen knife, before attempting to throttle her with a dressing-gown cord. Tapola has since withdrawn her complaint against her husband, but Finland's greatest living sportsman could still face an aggravated assault charge.

In the reverse of Nykanen’s career, Eddie The Eagle was an absolutely rubbish ski-jumper who went on to have a better career (not a great career, just a better one) as a minor British celebrity. This is another example where telebox tells the story better than I can. Check it:

At the closing ceremony of the Calgary Games the president of the Organising Committee, Frank King, singled out Edwards for his contribution: "At this Games some competitors have won gold, some have broken records and some of you have even soared like an eagle." At that moment, 100,000 people in the stadium roared 'Eddie! Eddie!' It was the first time in the history of the games that an individual athlete had been mentioned in the closing speech.
The British national animal: The Underdog

Related Articles…

For a little more Winter Olympics coverage why not try Hitler’s appearance in the Top 10 Snowsports Dictators


For more mad ski jumping check out: Have Extreme Sports Gone a Bit Soft? 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

© 1896. Design by Main-Blogger - Tinkering by Zhang - Colouring in by Illicit