The marriage between snowboarding and the Olympics hasn’t always been a perfect one.
The sport once banned from some of America’s top ski resorts was still dismissed as an “alternative” or “extreme” endeavor by some purists when it was added to the games in 1998.
Much more recently, Bob Costas ruffled feathers in the snowboarding world when he joked that this year’s inaugural slopestyle competition was "Jackass stuff they invented and called an Olympic sport," via USA Today.
As snowboarding prepares for its fifth Olympiad, however, the sport has largely ditched its novelty status and stands as one of the Games’ most popular and fastest growing attractions.
Today, most Olympic snowboarders get the respect they deserve as serious athletes, even if the sport continues to exude the kind of hip, laid-back cool you don’t get in, say, ice dancing.
Here’s a quick look at everything you need to know about what’ll happen on the snowboarding hill, halfpipe and slopestyle course in Sochi.
The list of medal snowboarding events expands to 10 this year, with the addition of parallel slalom and slopestyle.
Athletes arrive in the Olympic village just a couple of weeks removed from the Winter X Games, held in Aspen, Colo. from Jan. 23-26. If that event was meant to act as an Olympic preview, it also provided a few surprises.
Just one day prior to the Winter X Games, Shaun White announced he would skip the annual soiree to focus on his quest for double Olympic gold in men’s halfpipe and slopestyle.
UPDATE: White announced Tuesday that he is withdrawing from the slopestyle event, per Nick Zaccardi of NBCOlympics.com.
In addition, defending X Games titlists in both men’s and women’s slopestyle failed to repeat as champions. Even worse, men’s champ Mark McMorris of Canada suffered a fractured rib during a crash and will compete in Sochi nursing an injury.
While White remains the heavy favorite in men’s halfpipe, Team USA could face stiff challenges from an ever-stronger international field. Europeans could dominate the parallel slalom events, while Team Canada looks to lock down gold in men’s slopestyle and women’s snowboard cross.
Add in a couple of strong individual challengers from upstart teams like Australia and Japan, and this year’s snowboarding competition could be a wide-open affair.
Snowboarding ranks among the youngest Winter Olympic sports. Developed on American slopes during the mid-1960s, the decision to include it at the 1998 games in Nagano was not made without controversy.
The international skiing organization Federation Internationale de Ski (FIS) initially opposed the move and the resulting kerfuffle caused early halfpipe icon Terje Hakonsen of Norway to boycott the games.
Though its Olympic tenure has been comparatively short, snowboarding has already established a colorful history at the games.
Just days after becoming the first-ever snowboarder to win gold in ’98, Canada’s Ross Rebagliati was briefly stripped of his medal after testing positive for marijuana. The decision was later overturned after the Canadian Olympic Association filed an appeal.
In 2006, America’s Lindsey Jacobellis became the goat—and, to some, the heartthrob—of Torino when a bit of showboating caused her to tumble within sight of the finish line and cost her gold in women’s snowboard cross.
After somewhat modest beginnings, with just four medal events in ’98, snowboarding has experienced rapid growth at the Olympics, moving to six total events in 2006 and up to 10 this year. In Sochi, Team USA alone will send 23 snowboard competitors, more than any other sport except ice hockey.
2014 Winter Olympics Snowboarding Schedule:
February 6: Men's and Women's slopestyle qualification, 1:00 a.m. ET
February 8: Men's slopestyle semifinals, 12:30 a.m. ET; Men's slopestyle final, 3:45 a.m. ET
February 9: Women's slopestyle qualification, 1:30 a.m. ET; Women's slopestyle final, 4:15 a.m. ET
February 11: Men's halfpipe, 5 a.m., ET; Men's halfpipe qualification, 10 a.m. ET; Men's halfpipe final, 12:30 p.m. ET
February 12: Women's halfpipe, 5 a.m. ET; Women's halfpipe qualification, 10 a.m. ET; Women's halfpipe final, 12:30 p.m. ET
February 16: Women's snowboard cross qualification, 2 a.m. ET; Women's snowboard cross final, 4:15 a.m. ET
February 17: Men's snowboard cross qualification, 2 a.m. ET; Men's snowboard cross final, 4:30 a.m. ET
February 19: Men's and Women's parallel giant slalom qualification, 12 a.m. ET; Men's and Women's parallel giant slalom final, 4 a.m. ET
February 22: Men's and Women's parallel slalom qualification, 12:15 a.m. ET; Men's and Women's parallel slalom final, 4:15 a.m. ET
Shaun White, USA: Already pretty much the Michael Jordan of snowboarding—both in terms of sheer greatness and marketability—White returns to defend his back-to-back titles in the halfpipe. He’ll also chase gold in the inaugural slopestyle competition in a bid to leave Sochi as the most-decorated athlete in his sport’s short history.
Danny Davis, USA: Some thought Davis would never compete again after a pair of gruesome injuries. He broke his back in an ATV crash in 2010 and then suffered a broken femur while on the comeback trail two years later. Finally healthy, he’ll vie for a medal in the halfpipe. If he can find success, he’ll be one of Sochi’s true feel-good stories.
Mark McMorris, Canada: McMorris was one of the favorites in men’s slopestyle before he broke a rib during his final X Games run in late January. He says he’ll compete at the Olympics, per the Associated Press (via Fox Sports), but even if he does manage to make it to the course, he won’t be 100 percent.
Alex Pullin, Australia: Though he goes by the incongruous nickname “Chumpy,” Pullin is not only Australia’s best chance for men’s snowboarding gold, he’s also the team’s poster boy. One of the favorites in snowboard cross, he’s part of the sport’s leading power couple, with girlfriend Alexandra Jekova of Bulgaria.
Ayumu Hirano, Japan: Hirano, the 15-year-old wunderkind, is widely regarded as the future of the halfpipe, but that doesn’t mean he can’t push White as early as this year. He missed last month’s Winter X with a foot injury, but still represents his country’s best chance for its first-ever Olympic snowboarding medal.
Kelly Clark, USA: Clark is a three-time Olympian and regarded as one of the greatest women’s halfpipe snowborders in history. This year’s X Games championship made it four in a row and five overall for the Vermont native. She’s as close to a lock as you’ll find to win it all in Sochi.
Jamie Anderson, USA: Despite losing out on her bid to three-peat as Winter X women’s slopestyle champion in January, Anderson is still the Olympic favorite. A steady veteran at 23 years old—her first X Games gold came at age 15—look for her to shake off the disappointment of Aspen in style.
Lindsey Jacobellis, USA: Jacobellis caught considerable heat for the gaffe that cost her gold in women’s snowboard cross in 2006, but in the process she became a star. After failing to advance to the medal round in 2010, she’s back to take what might be her last shot at gold for Team USA.
Dominique Maltais, Canada: Standing in Jacobellis’ way will be Maltais, a firefighter from Quebec who dominated World Cup competition this year. After a bronze medal in Turin in 2006, she’ll be looking for her first Olympic gold.
Torah Bright, Australia: Bright won gold in women’s halfpipe four years ago and will considerably broaden her horizons this year, competing in slopestyle and snowboard cross, as well. It’s almost enough to make you wonder if she’ll be biting off more than she can chew.
Overview: Think street skateboarding on snow. In slopestyle—which makes its Olympic debut this year in Sochi—snowboarders must navigate a downhill course featuring rails, quarterpipes and jumps. Time is not of the essence, but tricks are judged for technique and amplitude, as each rider makes two runs apiece during the qualifying and final rounds.
Slopestyle isn’t for the faint of heart. Shaun White’s hard crash during his second run at an Olympic qualifying event had him undergoing physical therapy for the better part of last month. He’s fine now, but Olympic favorite Mark McMorris of Team Canada wasn't so lucky.
After a crash on his final run at the winter X Games, McMorris will compete in Sochi sporting broken ribs.
Men's Storylines: McMorris’ injury opens the door for the rest of the field, including White. In the absence of The Flying Tomato in Aspen last month however, it was McMorris’ teammate, Max Parrot, who won X Games gold.
Canadian Sebastien Toutant is also among the favorites on the men’s side, and the crowded crop from north of the border might make White’s quest for two gold medals a bit of a long shot.
Americans Chas Guldemond and Sage Kotsenburg could also emerge as threats, as could Torstein Horgmo of Norway.
Women's Storylines: Jamie Anderson is expected to bring home gold for the Americans, but, like McMorris, she fell at Winter X and failed to defend her crown. After a hotly contested battle, it was Norway’s Silje Norendal who walked away with a two-point victory.
If Anderson can avoid the pitfalls that short-circuited her run in Aspen, look for her singing the national anthem from atop the podium at the end. Also in the mix will be Isabel Derungs of Switzerland and New Zealand's Christy Prior.
Overview: Halfpipe is the high-flying glamour event of Olympic snowboarding. Like in skateboarding, contestants traverse a bowl-shaped course, pulling out their best tricks as they catch air off either side. Judges score each athlete based on technical superiority (and, let’s face it, wow factor) and the snowboarder with the highest score wins.
In four previous Olympic halfpipe competitions from 1998-2010, Team USA has never failed to place at least one medalist in both the men’s and women’s competition. In fact, at the 2002 games in Salt Lake City, Americans Ross Powers (gold), Danny Kass (silver) and Jarret Thomas (bronze) pulled a clean sweep for the United States on its home turf.
Men's Storylines: Shaun White returns in search of his third straight halfpipe championship. During qualifying at Mammoth Mountain, Calif. last month he affirmed his dominance by landing his newest trick—a cab double cork 1440—in competition for the first time. Obviously, he’ll be the favorite again this year.
Surprisingly, 2010 bronze medalist Scotty Lago failed at the last minute to qualify for Sochi. Instead, Greg Bretz, Danny Davis and rookie Taylor Gold join White on America’s four-man squad.
Also vying for a medal will be Iouri Podladtchikov of Switzerland.
Women's Storylines: Australia’s Torah Bright is back to try to defend the halfpipe crown she won four years ago in Vancouver. To win that gold, Bright bested 2006 gold medalist Hannah Teter as well as 2002 winner Kelly Clark, both of the United States.
If Clark is on her game, however, she may well be the woman to beat. Teter, who received a discretionary selection to Team USA this year, is also fully capable of providing a strong challenge to Bright. She's no stranger to the podium, after winning gold in 2006 and silver in 2010.
A strong showing from 16-year-old newcomer Arielle Gold—sister of Taylor Gold—could potentially give Team USA a chance at all three medals.
Overview: Snowboard Cross occasionally draws comparisons to NASCAR, but perhaps the better analogy is to motocross. Four riders race side-by-side over a course that includes jumps, moguls, banks and obstacles.
It’s pretty simple: first one down the hill wins.
Men's Storylines: Two-time gold medalist Seth Wescott of Team USA won’t get the opportunity to make it three in a row. Wescott, who had been vocal in criticizing the IOC for selecting Sochi as the site for this year’s games, was hampered by injuries and failed to qualify.
Instead, newcomers Trevor Jacob and Alex Deibold will represent the United States alongside veteran riders Nate Holland and Nick Baumgartner. Wescott’s absence opens the door for Australian Alex Pullin to race for gold, though Holland could present a strong challenge if he is able to avoid the crashes that spoiled his efforts in two previous Olympic appearances.
Italy's Omar Visintin and Markus Schairer of Austria could also make noise.
Women’s Storylines: There is no shortage of intrigue on the women’s side, where Team Canada will look to seize the top spots, if not the entire podium.
Defending Olympic champ Maelle Ricker is back for her fourth games, and finished Nos. 1-2 with Dominique Maltais at last year’s FIS Snowboard World Championship. It was Maltais, though, who dominated the competition during World Cup events in 2013, and she’ll be looking to edge Ricker for gold.
For the Americans, Lindsey Jacobellis is back for her third straight Olympics. After falling while leading the pack and trying to pull off a needless trick on one of the last jumps in Turin, she’s been looking for redemption. She didn’t medal in Vancouver and at 28 years old, this could be her last chance.
Overview: One of the original snowboarding events back in ’98, giant slalom was eliminated after just one appearance and replaced by its more exciting cousin, the parallel giant slalom. This year, regular old parallel slalom also joins the fray, giving snowboarding 10 medal events in Sochi.
The slalom events most closely resemble traditional skiing contests, as boarders race down the slopes, passing through a series of colored gates and vying for the best time. In the snowboarding events, however, two racers compete head-to-head on side-by-side courses.
Men's Storylines: On the men’s side, Team USA has only medaled once in snowboard slalom competition, and that was Chris Klug’s bronze back in 2002. This year, the international field will look to extend its dominance.
Austria’s Benjamin Karl stands as one of the favorites in both parallel giant slalom and parallel slalom. Karl took the silver in 2010, behind Canada’s Jasey-Jay Anderson. At 38, Anderson has come out of semi-retirement to compete in his fifth Olympics and defend his title. He and Slovenia’s Rok Marguc both have legitimate shots at gold.
Switzerland's Simon Schoch, the silver medalist from 2006, will also be back and could figure into medal scenario in the giant slalom, as could Andreas Prommegger of Austria. Along with Russia's Vic Wild, Schoch will be in the hunt in the parallel slalom, as well.
Women’s storylines: Like in men’s competition, American women have managed just one medal in parallel giant slalom—Rosey Fletcher’s bronze in 2006.
In Sochi, the top two women in both parallel slalom and parallel giant slalom are expected to be Patrizia Kummer of Switzerland and Czech Republic’s Ester Ledecka. Russia’s Ekaterina Tudegesheva and Ekaterina Ilyukhina could also be involved, with the benefit of home-field advantage at this year’s games.
Julia Dujmovits of Austria and Japan's Tomoka Takeuchi round out the women's medal hopefuls in the slalom events.
The United States has dominated Olympic snowboarding since its inception 16 years ago. With a total of 22 medals (including seven gold) to their credit, the Americans have more than double the number of their nearest competition—Switzerland, with nine.
In Sochi, Team USA will look to continue that success, but against increasingly difficult international competition.
Shaun White will garner as much media attention as any athlete in Sochi as he continues his quest for double gold in halfpipe and the new slopestyle event. After skipping January’s Winter X Games, White should be rested, ready and healed from a bad spill he took during qualifying.
Kelly Clark will also have a great chance to win gold for the Americans in women’s halfpipe. Clark has made the medal stand during two of the last three Olympics, and at 30 years old, she’s likely competing there for the last time.
With Jamie Anderson also vying for gold in slopestyle and Lindsey Jacobellis attempting to medal for the second time in snowboard cross, the United States will try to stay ahead of the pack, as Olympic snowboarding fields more events and more athletes than ever before.
Gold: Sebastien Toutant, Canada
Silver: Shaun White, USA
Bronze: Mark McMorris, Canada
Gold: Jamie Anderson, USA
Silver: Silje Norendal, Norway
Bronze: Spencer O'Brien, Canada
Gold: Shaun White, USA
Silver: Danny Davis, USA
Bronze: Ayumu Hirano, Japan
Gold: Kelly Clark, USA
Silver: Torah Bright, Australia
Bronze: Arielle Gold, USA
Gold: Alex Pullin, Australia
Silver: Nate Holland, USA
Bronze: Nick Baumgartner, USA
Gold: Dominique Maltais, Canada
Silver: Maelle Ricker, Canada
Bronze: Lindsey Jacobellis, USA
Parallel Giant Slalom
Gold: Benjamin Karl, Austria
Silver: Simon Schoch, Switzerland
Bronze: Jasey-Jay Anderson, Canada
Gold: Ester Ledecka, Czech Republic
Silver: Ekaterina Tudegesheva, Russia
Bronze: Patrizia Kummer, Switzerland
Gold: Simon Schoch, Switzerland
Silver: Vic Wild, Russia
Bronze: Benjamin Karl, Austria
Gold: Ekaterina Ilyukhina, Russia
Silver: Julia Dujmovits, Austria
Bronze: Ekaterina Tudegesheva, Russia