Writer/Photographer/Stoke Ambassador

The 2018 Winter Olympics are in full swing and only three days into it, we’ve had our first controversy. This time it was the weather, or rather Olympic official’s lack of discernment for rider safety during inclement weather conditions. High winds and cold temperatures caused the women’s slopestyle qualifiers to be cancelled. The next day, the event went straight into the finals.

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Riders were understandably nervous. German athlete Silvia Mittermüller Tweeted that she was, “really not feeling right” accompanied by a video clip of the wind howling through the course (below).  The Globe and Mail quoted Canadian Brook Voight’s thoughts on how “terrifying” the gusts were: “Picture holding an umbrella in the wind. That’s your snowboard.”

But as the saying goes, “The show must go on.” Especially a billion-dollar show with contractual obligations to sponsors and television networks. So, despite the weather not improving by much, the Olympic officials declined to cancel the final on Monday despite canceling a giant slalom event in skiing and the women got virtually no support from their governing body, FIS. And that’s when the female competitors blew it by not huddling together and using their collective voice to ensure a change was made. Let me explain.

The first run conditions were challenging yet doable, but by the second run the wind increased dramatically, and the results speak for themselves. Out of 50 runs, only 9 were considered clean–where the athletes didn’t fall. It was pretty obvious that the conditions were not only sub-par but downright dangerous.

The strange thing is that, unlike most pro-level contests, the athletes or coaches were not consulted on whether or not to call off the contest. X Games gold medalist and World Champion Spencer O’Brien said, “At the very least … our opinions are taken into consideration. And that wasn’t done here, on either day. I think 90 percent of the women didn’t want to ride today.” And yet, the show still went on.

I don’t think there is any argument about the scale of the spectacle the Olympic games has become. Many before me have pontificated on the perversion of the Olympic Spirit from global unity in sport to a massive money maker and corporate circle-jerk. In many ways, the organizer’s decision to not cancel the final isn’t really surprising, despite overwhelming criticism by the media and the athletes themselves, with Dutch Rider Cheryl Maas holding no reservations, calling the final a “shitshow”.

Yet still, nobody was forced to ride, and this is where my point lies. By going and competing anyway, the athletes unfortunately blew a chance to unite and take a stand against an organization that has deviated so far from its purpose. Yes, officials didn’t make the athlete’s safety a priority. Yes, the event was far less exciting to watch (as well as compete in) than if the conditions were more ideal. But no, the athletes were not without choice.

I don’t blame anyone. OK, maybe the coaches because they could have taken a stand and done their job, which was to advise and mentor their athletes. When things are happening so fast it’s hard to think objectively. And the Olympic Machine is a powerful flow to swim against. But all the more reason to unite, take a stand, and step back in unison. The news headlines would have read much differently, and a shift might have occurred where the athletes recognized their true power through solidarity.

This isn’t necessarily a gender issue, although one can at least test this hypothesis: if over 80 percent of the male athletes fell in their run, would they have kept the cameras rolling or postponed the event and waited for better conditions when it would be a much better watch? We can hypothesize all we want but I have a feeling we all know the answer.

I’m proud to see that around the world more women are having a voice and a shot at glory that equals the men. I just hope that athletes around the world can take this opportunity as a lesson to say next time, when the powers that be are jeopardizing safety and the quality of competition to fill a time slot, that they’ll take a united stand. It’s a sign of a larger problem in the rest of the world where we as humans forget that our power lies in our collective action.

Some might dismiss politics in sport as trivial, but the behavior is the same no matter the circumstance. United we stand, divided we fall–so ladies (or fellas) if you find yourself in a situation where an administrative board isn’t putting you and your fellow athletes’ interests first, use your power and unified voice to say ‘no.’ The show must go on but you have the opportunity to make sure we’re getting the best–and safest–show possible.



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