Who invented this sport? Americans. Who owns it now? The Europeans. It’s gut-check time for the U.S. Snowboard Team, which is sick and tired of being humiliated by the world in competitive riding.
How has it come to this? In a word, infighting, dating back to when the IOC awarded oversight of Olympic snowboarding to the FIS, skiing’s governing body. In the minds of competitive snowboarders, it was a slap in the face to the already established International Snowboard Federation (ISF).
Ever since, snowboarding has been torn. Those who chose to forsake the ISF improved their chances of earning Olympic bids. Those who stayed risked being frozen out, but earned the respect of the core snowboarding community (and better prize money).
The Europeans, quite comfortable with the FIS, moved in, perfecting precision-carved turns in the alpine events and bringing science and regimen to their training. Unseating them won’t be easy, but this is the Olympics. A nation is watching¿and expecting great things from American riders in an American sport.
The women’s halfpipe is discouraging, with only Kelly Clark’s top-10 result to show for it. But the following day goes much better: Danny Kass, emerging as a gutsy young contender on the ISF circuit, puts up big air and big numbers to take silver.
He’s not officially a member of the U.S. Team, but it counts.
Four days later in the parallel GS, there are more good results. After dispatching Hermann Maier’s kid brother, Alexander, in the next-to-last round, Chris Klug takes silver, edged in the final heat by Stefan Kaltshuetz, the machine from Austria. In the women’s event, Rosey Fletcher narrowly misses bronze, eliminated by Karine Ruby of France.
But the greatest story is Sondra Van Ert. Too old, at 37, to win a medal, they say. Doesn’t like the parallel format, they say. Tell that to Italy’s Margherita Parini, who trails from start to finish in the final run. Looking ahead, always down the course, Van Ert sees nothing but gold to cap her career.
ISF? FIS? Who cares? For 16 days in February, it’s all about the USA. And the USA owns snowboarding.