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Snowboarders concerned Olympics future

By: KRISTEN GOWDY kristen.gowdy@gazette.com
July 3, 2015 Updated: July 3, 2015 at 9:18 am
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photo - Maggie Rose Carrigan
Maggie Rose Carrigan 

Justin Reiter left the Sochi Olympics with a sour taste in his mouth.

The Alpine snowboarder, making his first Olympic appearance at 33, finished 24th in the parallel giant slalom and was disqualified from his second event, the parallel slalom, after tracking inside the gate on his first run.

"The two worst races of my career happened to be during the Olympics," he said. "To be able to go back in 2018 and have redemption for both of those events would be an amazing opportunity."

Thanks to a recent International Olympic Committee proposal, however, Reiter may not have the opportunity to compete in both events in Pyeongchang. In a statement released in early June, the IOC proposed removal of the parallel slalom event in favor of big air, citing the fact that it does not "reflect the continued evolution of the Winter Olympic program."

Now, Reiter and the rest of the snowboard racers in the U.S. - and the world - are banding together to prove just the opposite.

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According to the reformed Olympic Agenda 2020, events are centered on five criteria: youth appeal; attractiveness for television, media and general public; gender equality; minimum impact on the number of events and/or quotas; and infrastructure and operational cost.

"All of these elements, we align perfectly with," a frustrated Reiter said Wednesday.

Contrary to the releases pushed by the IOC, Reiter and fellow U.S. alpine snowboarder AJ Muss said the decision is, for now, just a proposal. They said the final decision will be made in early August at the IOC's last summer meeting.

That hasn't stopped the riders from working to influence the final decision.

Teaming with racers from around the world, the group has formed a United Riders Alliance and began a petition on change.org that has accumulated more than 15,000 signatures. Additionally, they have drafted individual letters to each member of the IOC's board.

Strictly looking at medals, eliminating the parallel slalom wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing for the Americans, who generally dominate snowboarding at the Olympic Games with the exception of slalom events.

Reiter was the only American to attend Sochi as a snowboard slalom rider, and the United States Ski and Snowboard Association hasn't supported an alpine snowboard team since 2010.

For other countries, however, snowboard slalom is comparable to slalom skiing in the United States. American Vic Wild, arguably the best alpine snowboarder in the world, won gold in both slalom events competing for the Russians in Sochi because of the support he received from their federation.

Former Olympian Thedo Remmelink, who coaches Alpine snowboarding at the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, said he was "disIOCappointed" in the proposal.

The SSWSC has become the main hub for the nation's top Alpine snowboarders since the national team disbanded in 2010.

"I had a feeling there was a little more behind it. Olympic decisions, they do get very political," Remmelink said, refusing to elaborate further. "At the last Olympics, parallel slalom was actually very popular. We had a ton of positive reactions, there were a lot of spectators there."

Though the Americans have not earned a snowboard parallel slalom medal since Chris Klug took bronze in the giant parallel slalom in 2002, it does not mean the U.S. does not have medal potential, especially heading into the 2018 Games.

Reiter has been finishing on the podium consistently in the 2015 Parallel Slalom World Cup, highlighted by a first-place finish in the Moscow competition.

Meanwhile, 18-year-old Maggie Rose Carrigan is the top female United States rider and has already made appearances at the World Cup level. Carrigan, who found out about the IOC's proposal the day after she graduated from high school, said she had already made the decision to forgo college to pursue snowboarding.

"I was very upset," she said. "I thought to myself, 'Well, if they take out my sport, what am I going to do now? And what is every professional athlete going to do?'"

The answer to that is more complex than it may seem. While parallel giant slalom will still be included in the 2018 Games, it is a bigger financial burden to send athletes to the Olympics for just one event.

"We go to the Olympics for two disciplines," Muss, who is currently ranked second in the U.S. behind Reiter, said. "Traveling that far to go to the Olympics for just one discipline would suck."

The athletes plan to continue training normally, at least until the IOC makes its final decision. Remmelink said the similarity of the two events - giant slalom involves larger turns - allows for cross-training.

Additionally, because parallel slalom will still be included in events other than the Olympics, it will still be an important discipline for the riders.

The athletes will continue to petition for the IOC to reconsider its decision. For Reiter, it's a fight for more than just his own redemption.

"If you're good at one, chances are you can excel at the other," he said.

"When the Olympics added two racing events, there was a shot of energy in me, there was a shot of energy in the grassroots riders. That's why I'm fighting for this."

A second chance and a potential place atop an Olympic podium don't hurt, either.

"When I was a kid, I grew up with an Olympic dream and when somebody was put into the Olympics, it gave me that ability to dream," he continued. "Yeah, that would be a great opportunity, but the larger picture is I want to see the most snowboarding possible in the Olympics and I want to see the largest group of kids that compete in every discipline have an Olympic dream."

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