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The clothing controversy is just one example of an underlying cross question: What, exactly, are the rules? There is a rule book, but Puckett, now in his third season, says he’s never read it. He’s not alone. Instead, the de facto rules, particularly regarding on-course entanglements, are essentially framed by a gentlemen’s agreement. “We try not to kill each other,” Puckett explains. Protests and disqualifications are unusual, because to lodge a protest against another athlete would violate that gentlemanly code of conduct. Will this fly when there are Olympic medals at stake? We’ll see.
A similar vagueness governs course design, where several schools of thought apply. Konrad Rotermund, an FIS freestyle official, claims that a key principle should be that athletes spend 40 to 50 percent of their time in the air. Rahlves, who enjoys big air as much as the next guy, thinks more time should be spent on snow, where the skill of working the skis to generate speed comes to the fore.
Courses range from a 45-second run to something lasting as long as a minute and a half. When athletes must advance through four preliminary rounds to make the finals, that 45-second difference is huge. (In a World Cup event last February on the Olympic course near Vancouver, times were in the 1:15 range.)