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Snowboarding Brings Excitement To Sochi

Durga Ghosh |
February 7, 2014 | 1:42 p.m. PST

Staff Writer

Camille De Faucompret, left, of France, and Russia's Ekaterina Ilyukhina compete. (AFL/Getty Images)
Camille De Faucompret, left, of France, and Russia's Ekaterina Ilyukhina compete. (AFL/Getty Images)

The Summer Olympics have millions of viewers, cheering on their beloved gymnasts, swimmers, runners and more. In general, the Winter Olympics tends to draw in a smaller crowd than its summer counterpart. This year, however, the addition of a couple new, grueling snowboarding events will try to lure in viewers.

As the newest discipline in the Winter Games program, snowboarding is quickly making up for lost time. In attempts to increase the excitement around the Winter Olympics, there are now 10 medal events, with 252 athletes participating. Out of the 10, two new events will make their first appearances in Sochi.

Of the two new events - snowboard slopestyle and snowboard parallel special slalom - snowboard parallel slalom is definitely the event to watch. As if there isn’t already an extreme factor regarding the idea of riders racing down a course loaded with gates and triangular flags, the parallel special slaloms pit riders head to headThe gates are strategically placed at an angle so competitors can lean into the turns, but on only a snowboard. In fact, most riders wear knee-high shin guards, as they often hit the gates as they pass them. Flags are placed 20 to 25 meters apart, requiring each athlete to be quick; the vertical drop of the course is between 120 and 200 meters, requiring each athlete to be somewhat fearless. 

Like giant slalom in skiing, competitors must zig-zag between red and blue gates. Unlike skiing, athletes must rely completely on control over their board to cut through flags and gates, as they have no ski poles to rely on. Parallel special slalom is all about carving, so hard boots and plate bindings are used with a rigid board to achieve a stable and fluid ride. Competitors have to make it through nine trials to get to the final.

Named "special" for both its newness as well as its difficulty, the most daunting aspect of the parallel special slalom is the fact that competitors have to make it through nine races to get to the final. The event begins with a qualification stage, when riders race on their own against the clock and the top 16 go through to the knockout stage. Next, head-to-head rounds involve two races, with the rivals swapping sides after the first race to make sure neither receives an unfair advantage. The rider who wins both races automatically makes it through to the next round, and the combined times are used to decide the winner if they tie.

Czech Republic's Ester Ledecka speeds down the course in Austria in January. (Kerstin Joensson/AP)
Czech Republic's Ester Ledecka speeds down the course in Austria in January. (Kerstin Joensson/AP)
Rider times are also contingent upon their success throughout the course: riders who crash, miss a gate, or fail to finish the first heat are given their opponent's time plus 4 percent of the top qualifying time. As if that isn't enough of a deduction, if mistakes are made in the second run, the opponent wins regardless of the result of the first race. And if both riders crash in the second heat, the one who passes through the most gates is declared the winner. The event tests not only skills, but endurance, as well as the ability to do everything possible to not be worse than your rival.

For the event, Lukas Mathies of Austria, France’s Sylvain Dufour and Alexander Bergmann of Germany are among the top men's competitors. But Vic Wild, a former American turned Russian citizen, is a crowd favorite. Patrizia Kummer of Switzerland is among the favorites in the women's competition. Justin Reiter is the lone American entrant.

With all the literal twists and turns to be watching for, parallel special slalom's is a guaranteed high-intensity new event, perfect for any thrill-seeking viewer. 

Reach Staff Writer Durga Ghosh here.



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