Olympics contribute to progression, danger in snowboarding
MAMMOTH LAKES, Calif. – There was little time to reflect on what happened to fallen snowboarder Kevin Pearce.
Less than a week after Pearce suffered a serious head injury in a training accident in Park City, Utah, the world’s top halfpipe riders were summoned to Mammoth Mountain on Wednesday for the second U.S. Snowboarding Grand Prix.
While respectful and concerned for Pearce, who has been comatose since Dec. 31, the competitors didn’t modify or scale back their repertoire of highly technical tricks in the halfpipe.
In fact, Wednesday’s winners Kelly Clark and Danny Davis actually pushed the envelope of their sport as Americans aggressively pursued a limited number of U.S. Olympic Team roster spots. Judges could find little wrong with their runs as Clark won with a score of 48.4 and Davis topped the men with a best run of 49.2.
Davis and Shaun White are among the riders who have elevated their runs this winter by modifying one of their two-revolution tricks – a double cork – by backflipping twice instead of twisting.
“Every Olympic year there is a push on the progression side of things and we’re witnessing them at these events,” Clark said. “The guys doing them are the most capable snowboarders in the world, and they are very well-trained and very well-prepared. The sport will keep progressing, and I think we are going to keep seeing more and more difficult tricks.”
Hannah Teter missed the opening Grand Prix at Copper, Colo., after injuring a shoulder in training. Pearce’s injury impacted Teter and gave her greater focus heading into upcoming events.
“It really shows how dangerous the sport is that you are riding basically an ice chunk,” said Teter, the 2006 Olympic women’s halfpipe winner. “It’s so hard to see one of your friends fall, and it’s a reminder that you have to be on and in the zone.”
Competitors don’t pull out new tricks from contest to contest. Riders begin to incorporate a new component to their run in the offseason – and the learning progression even starts off the snow.
“They practice on trampolines and in the foam pits until they come out in the snow and do them,” Clark said. “It’s not like aerials or anything. It’s a matter of being confident in airware. When you can do that into a foam pit, you can basically take it to the snow a lot easier.”
U.S. halfpipe coach Mike Jankowski said that riders well spend the essential time to ensure that a trick is properly learned.
“We don’t rush them into anything and don’t encourage them to do anything that they are not ready for,” Jankowski said. “It’s like the old adage: Practice makes perfect. In order to bring a big trick to competition, it’s not a roll of the dice.”
Teter said that there is no place for fear in her sport.
“It makes the sport that much crazier to watch for viewers, and to be a part of it. You have to get past that fear and just throw out your passion,” she said.
When the one-upmanship ended on Wednesday, the top boarder’s thoughts quickly returned to Pearce.
On the podium, Davis paid tribute to his friend by waving a cardboard sign on a stick containing a peace symbol that read “Pearce Be With You.”
“This can happen to anybody, anywhere. You can catch your edge just riding down the slope and smash your face,” Davis said. “Kevin was trying a really heavy trick. The last thing Kevin would want is for us to stop trying those tricks, not snowboard and be all scared. We have to keep that in mind, that he wants us to keep doing what we’re doing.”
In recent days, Pearce’s condition has been upgraded from critical to serious. The 22-year-old remains in intensive care.
“The only way we can really help that kid right now is to do well,” Davis said. “We travel all year together, so it’s been a really trying last week just hearing about his status.”