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>>> February 24, 2002 >>> Day 16
sports snowboarding history

parallel giant slalom

Snowboarding History

No Olympic sport owes more to youth culture and shrewd marketing than snowboarding. The youngest Olympic event has evolved from a daredevil backcountry pastime into one of the fastest-growing sports in the world.

The renegade sport boomed once business realized its youth appeal proved a demographic that was ripe for pushing everything from pretzels to SUVs. But the original heart and soul of snowboarding lives on in many who practice it. For them, there's nothing like landing a trick after hours of bailing or carving some fresh mountain powder.

As expected, France's Karine Ruby won the first women's snowboard giant slalom in 1998.
Photo: AFP
Most riders profess snowboarding to be more than a sport. It's a way of life. Like the sports it evolved out of -- surfing, skateboarding and alpine skiing -- snowboarding has a unique culture, argot and lifestyle.

Surfing on snow
American Sherwin Poppen is often credited with mass-producing the earliest snowboard-like device in the mid-1960s. Called the Snurfer, a tip of the cap to Poppen's vision of surfing on snow, it was essentially a beefed-up skateboard plank covered with staples to provide traction and a hand-held rope attached for steering.

The Snurfer was marketed and sold as a toy, but the 1960s leisure movement saw the Snurfer's potential as a legitimate piece of sporting equipment. A small group of thrill-seekers took the Snurfer into the backcountry where it gathered a loyal following.

However the Snurfer earned a reputation for danger because of its limited control mechanisms. Most commercial ski centres wanted nothing to do with it.

Early snowboarding pioneers, like Jake Burton Carpenter, Tom Sims and Demetrije Milovich, improved upon the original Snurfer idea. They created boards with adjustable foot straps and steel edges. Buzz began to grow amongst skating and surfing enthusiasts. Snowboarding became a winter alternative to the summer board sports. Its potential further blossomed as better equipment hit store shelves.

Some commercial ski areas opened their slopes to snowboarding in the early 1980s, but it didn't take long for friction to build between skiers and boarders. Many skiers viewed snowboarders as antisocial outlaws. The riders saw the ski resort as the yuppie's domain.

The snowboarder-skier rivalry simmered down as more snowboarders hit the slopes and die-hard skiers started swapping their skis for boards.

Hipsters from youth cultures like punk, grunge, hip-hop and skateboarding embraced the sport and influenced everything from the gravity-defying moves to the carefree lifestyle. Advertisers and big business jumped on board, causing an explosion of interest in the latest winter "it" sport.

Most ski hills that originally resisted the snow shredders had to face the economic facts -- snowboarding brought in big bucks. More hills began opening their slopes to riders.

At the same time, internal strife surfaced within the snowboarding community as different disciplines emerged. Some snowboarders favoured freestyle trick riding, the type associated with surfing and skateboarding. Others explored alpine possibilities, tearing down slopes at high speeds and carving crisp turns. A third group embraced freeriding, a combination of alpine and freestyle.

Some of the tension between those who practice different styles of snowboarding still exists, although to a lesser degree than in the early days.

Competition begins
The first official snowboard competition was held in Leadville, Colorado in 1981. The International Snowboard Association (ISA), the sport's original governing body, was founded eight years later. The ISA later transformed into the International Snowboard Federation in 1991.

The snowboarder-run ISF held the first world championships in 1992 and remained the dominant snowboarding organization until 1994, when the International Ski Federation (FIS) added a snowboarding wing to the repertoire of snow sports under its jurisdiction.

The FIS promptly arranged a deal with the IOC to become the official snowboarding tour associated with the Olympics. This infuriated ISF executives and riders. The Olympic allure proved powerful to competitive boarders, though. Eventually, many ISF athletes began competing in both circuits or exclusively in FIS events. The Olympic affiliation paved the way for the FIS to take over as the primary governing snowboarding organization.

Olympic History
Snowboarding gained official Olympic medal status faster than most events. It took curling six attempts as a demonstration or exhibition sport before entering the official Olympic program; snowboarding earned the same recognition in less than a decade of World Cup competitions and no demonstration appearances.

Snowboarders didn't universally embrace the Olympic movement; some wanted nothing to do with it. Halfpipe guru Terje Haakonsen of Norway chose to boycott the Nagano Games. Haakonsen felt snowboarding was about personal expression and self-enjoyment, not about governing bodies, big money and being judged.

Snowboarding is like that. Some riders get more stoked over scoring magazine spreads, shooting movies and garnering peer acceptance than chasing Olympic gold. Although many riders shared Haakonsen's view, no other major names turned down the chance to participate in snowboarding's Olympic debut in 1998.

Nagano Gold
Ross Rebagliati of Canada was the surprise winner of the men's giant slalom, but that was just the beginning of the story.
Photo: AFP
The newest Olympic sport immediately captured international attention in Nagano. Three days after Ross Rebagliati won the inaugural giant slalom snowboarding medal, the Whistler, B.C. native tested positive for traces of marijuana.

The ensuing events sparked debate over the role of non-performance-enhancing drugs in amateur sport.

The IOC medical commission voted 13-12 and the executive board elected 3-2 with two abstentions (including Canadian IOC member Dick Pound) to strip Rebagliati of his medal. The COA appealed the decision on Rebagliati's claim he hadn't smoked marijuana in 10 months. He said he last puffed marijuana 10 months earlier, but had attended a marijuana-smoke filled party before leaving for Japan.

Rebagliati's supporters, who included COA chief Carol-Anne Letheren, argued there was enough second-hand smoke in the air to trigger a positive result. After all the evidence was presented, the Court of Arbitration of Sport allowed Rebagliati to keep his medal. They cited a legal technicality stating, under IOC rules, marijuana was a restricted substance, not a banned one. The original decision to strip Rebagliati came from an FIS rule.

Since the IOC and FIS had no official non-performance drug agreement, the appeals court unanimously ruled the IOC had no right to strip Rebagliati. The 26-year-old snowboarder returned to Whistler as an Olympic gold medallist and counter-cultural folk hero.

Unfortunately, Rebagliati's remarkable performance was lost in the haze of headlines about the dope scandal. Rebagliati finished his first run in eighth place, only to throw down a perfect second run to edge Italy's Thomas Prugger by .02 seconds.

Karine Ruby dominated the first-ever Olympic women's giant slalom. The French rider beat her nearest rival by almost two seconds.

In snowboarding's glamour event, the halfpipe, Switzerland's Gian Simmen won men's gold, while Nicola Thost of Germany aired her way to the top of the women's podium.

The top Canadians freestylers were Mike Michalchuck, who rode to an eighth-place finish in the men's halfpipe and Maelle Ricker, who was fifth in the women's event.

The Legends
Karine Ruby, France - 1998

1 GER 12 16 7
2 NOR 11 7 6
3 USA 10 13 11
4 RUS 6 6 4
5 CAN 6 3 8
6 FRA 4 5 2
7 ITA 4 4 4
8 FIN 4 4 4
9 NED 3 5 0
10 SUI 3 2 6

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Mathieu Bozzetto, France
Walter Feichter, Italy
Nicolas Huet, France
Dejan Kosir, Slovenia
Nicola Pederzolli, Austria
Magnus Sterner, Sweden

Marion Posch, Italy
Karine Ruby, France
Sabine Wehr-Hasler, Germany

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