Bob Costas doesn't appreciate it and the rest of the old guard might not understand it, but the Winter Olympic Games are getting hip on the hills, and everyone had better get used to it.
Yes, New Age X Games have infiltrated old-school Olympic competition, and there’s no reason to look back now.
The 2014 Sochi Games get under way next month, and the high-flying slopestyle snowboard and skiing competitions will make their highly anticipated debuts as the Olympics continue a welcome trend toward embracing the new era of extreme winter sports.
In what should be a thrilling addition to the Sochi Games, men and women slopestyle snowboarders and skiers will execute a multitude of different aerial maneuvers and tricks throughout a course strewn with jumps and rail obstacles. The decision to add the sports, which are growing quickly in popularity, came just after the 2010 Vancouver Games, and the sport’s elite have been preparing for their time in the spotlight ever since.
Skiers Nick Goepper, Gus Kenworthy, Bobby Brown, Devin Logan and Keri Herman were all named to the U.S. Olympic team Saturday night. Celebrated snowboarders such as Shaun White and Jamie Anderson are heading to Sochi as slopestyle medal threats as well. The entire U.S. team is expected to be announced within the week.
There’s no denying the appeal slopestyle has with the younger generations of winter sport enthusiasts, who marvel at the daring aerial jumps, twists and spins the athletes deliver.
At the same time, however, that attraction appears hopelessly lost on old-school traditionalists who doubt slopestyle's place alongside time-honored Olympic competition.
Chief among those detractors is Costas, the Emmy Award-winning face of NBC’s Olympic coverage. In a recent appearance on The Today Show, the multiple sports Emmy winner suggested slopestyle was more “Jackass” worthy than Olympic quality, setting off a tempest in advance of this weekend’s qualifiers, and ultimately, the debut of the competitions in Russia.
“I think the president of the IOC should be Johnny Knoxville, because basically, this stuff is just Jackass-worthy stuff that they invented and called Olympic sports,” Costas said with a laugh.
Costas’ comments have not played well with the athletes looking to earn their way to the Sochi Olympics as a part of the snowboard and freestyle skiing teams.
“Comments like that show his underlying feelings toward the event, and it just puts out a bad message," Sochi slopestyle ski hopeful Tom Wallisch told ESPN.com. "If people like Costas continue to talk about the sport like that, it's going to make slopestyle look like a junk show, which it isn't. It's a sport that has more followers and fans than a lot of other Olympic sports. And this is our time to show that to the world."
Dozens of American athletes spent the past several days attempting to qualify for the U.S. snowboard and freestyle ski teams at the World Cup U.S. Grand Prix, while at the same time looking to prove that their talents and sports are just as Olympic-worthy as traditional snowboard and ski events.
Yet while those fearless skiers will apologize to no one for what they do and who they are, they've been forced to endure the shortsighted and largely ill-informed opinions from those who, for some reason, doubt their qualifications for Olympic competition.
"We just got in the Olympics, and already we have guys who know nothing about the history of our sport telling us we're just a bunch of jackasses? That's pretty demeaning,” said U.S. slopestyle snowboarder Sage Kotsenburg per ESPN.com.
Even some of Costas’ co-workers at NBC, including Sal Masekela, who will be a SportsDesk reporter for the network during the Games, and Todd Richards, agree with Kotsenburg and the other skiers and snowboarders that have taken umbrage with the thought that slopestyle is unworthy of Olympic recognition.
In fact, Richards recently took to Facebook to distance himself from his co-worker’s opinion, per ESPN.com:
Let me get this straight: All the sacrifices of body and mind I and countless others have made to progress the discipline of slopestyle have now been reduced to the byproduct of an MTV show … by someone that is ‘hosting’ the Olympics? On behalf of NBC’s snowboarding coverage team I apologize to everyone in the sport. This does not represent the feelings of the people that work hard to bring you the snowboarding broadcasts.
Sal Masekela ripping Bob Costas ... on NBC's PR site. pic.twitter.com/Gq7RuKvmp2— Paulsen (@paulsen_smw) January 7, 2014
Those who dismiss or simply can’t relate to change predictably question it, and that is ultimately what has happened to slopestyle. That said, recent generations of winter sports enthusiasts have gravitated to competitions that feature high-aerial tricks and jumps, and it’s only reasonable that the Winter Olympics not only recognize, but embrace that movement.
The reality is that the addition of slopestyle snowboard and ski competitions is not only deserved, but essential to the future of the Winter Games as they seek to remain relevant to younger generations.
Once considered “fringe sports,” X Games competitions such as slopestyle and half-pipe have surged in popularity with young winter sports enthusiasts, and to ignore those events would be biting the hand that may well feed them in the future.
Indeed, it makes much more sense to welcome and celebrate the arrival of slopestyle Olympians such as White, Logan, Herman and Goepper than to question or undermine them. Not only is their talent Olympic-worthy, but the addition of the events only increases the U.S team’s medal potential in the Sochi Games and beyond.
"I'm glad Bob Costas said that," Goepper told ESPN.com recently. "Now it should draw interest and make slopestyle one of the most entertaining sports in the Olympics."
With or without Costas, the slopestyle ski and snowboard competitions were destined to be highlights of the Sochi Games. The drama, intrigue and aerial artistry of the sport will more than justify its place in the Games and confirm the brilliance of the skiers and snowboarders competing alongside other Olympians.
Half-pipe is also making its Olympic freestyle skiing debut, and American medal hopeful Maddie Bowman has been vocally supportive of the entire freeskiing contingent.
“I think the world is going to take us seriously (during the Games),” Bowman told Bleacher Report. “I think we are going to take (people) by surprise and really awe them. They are going to be shocked by what we do.”