Events Are New, but Risks Aren't

By Macur, Juliet | International New York Times, February 15, 2014 | Go to article overview

Events Are New, but Risks Aren't


Macur, Juliet, International New York Times


Events like slopestyle, halfpipe and aerials might have changed the look of the Olympics, but the risks they involve are nothing new.

The X Games generation is sometimes referred to as a new breed of Winter Olympian, daredevils unafraid -- even excited -- to push the limit of gravity in sports that inherently push the limit of safety. And the Winter Olympics' new slopestyle events are their test track.

Barreling over a series of rails and tall ramps, competitors hurl themselves several stories into the air as if it were just another day at the office, and not the life-threatening proposition that it is. They fly through the sky, and flip and twist as the wind flaps against their baggy clothes. Some take on the ramps while skiing backward.

They make it look so easy. But, of course, it's not.

Last week, a top snowboarder dropped out of the Olympics with a broken collarbone. Another cracked her helmet in a fall. In the women's slopestyle skiing this past week, a competitor broke her jaw.

So why do they all look as if they are having so much fun? Every single competitor at Thursday's slopestyle skiing final had a smile on his face within seconds of finishing. Even the Australian who crashed on his final jump, landing on his head and planting his face into the snow, was beaming.

"This sport's pretty gnarly," said that Australian, Russ Henshaw, who was not injured in his fall. "I had two broken ankles last year and a broken shin, and oh, I hurt my knee, but that's all."

The same laid-back attitude was shared by the three Americans who swept the medals. Joss Christensen, who won the gold, said he had never had so much fun. Gus Kenworthy, who won silver, talked not about his death-defying tricks but about his efforts to adopt four puppies and their mother from Sochi. And Nick Goepper, the bronze medalist, said he had at least two more Olympics in him. "Why stop when you're having such a good time?" he said.

They did not seem like X Games risk-takers. But that's who they are, and they have the scars to prove it. Christensen has broken several fingers and both wrists, and once broke both ankles in a single landing. Goepper broke several bones in his left hand when he punched the snow after missing a landing. "Three pins and screws," he said as he pointed to a thick, angry mark on the top of his hand. Then he grinned.

The International Olympic Committee added events like this, and brought in competitors like this, to spice up the Winter Games program and attract younger viewers.

But is the daredevil attitude they bring, I wondered, really all that new? …

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