Maybe it’s their youth or the rebel nature of their sport, but slopestyle snowboarders have made a rude introduction at the Olympics, getting noticed as much for their trash-talking as their performances.
While bad-mouthing opponents is almost routine in professional sports such as basketball, soccer and hockey, it’s still relatively rare at the Olympics, where sportsmanship is supposed to be paramount. And yet the inaugural slopestyle event hadn’t started when the tone turned nasty.
It began last Wednesday, with a pair of Canadians, Maxence Parrot and Sebastien Toutant, using Twitter to slam American superstar Shaun White for backing out of the slopestyle to concentrate on the snowboard halfpipe, on which he is a two-time Olympic champion.
White was “scared” wrote Parrot, 19. Toutant, 21, said the 27-year-old American was looking for excuses. They didn’t let up Thursday, when the competition began with qualifying runs.
“I’m happy that I said what I think to the world,” Parrot said after qualifying for Saturday’s final.
Ditto, Toutant said: “I think a lot of people feel the same way, they just don’t say it.”
Toutant, who also qualified for the final, dug the knife in further by saying he didn’t view White as a real competitor because the American was playing it safe and not taking a chance in slopestyle, where he might lose.
This week’s outbursts may have something to do with resentment toward White, a superstar who makes millions and has clearly ruffled some feathers among his younger rivals.
Parrot, who posted the highest score Thursday, making him the favourite to win the gold, said he was frustrated he wouldn’t get a chance to take on White.
“It has been a couple of contests in a row that he is pulling out at the last minute. And I would just really like to compete against him,” the Canadian said, adding if he does win, it won’t mean as much to some. “People are going to say, ‘Well, Shaun White could have beaten you,’ and I will be really mad about that.”
Toutant echoed that sentiment, saying while he respects White’s abilities, the American owed it to everyone to compete. “I’m not saying he wouldn’t have had any chance, he’s an amazing snowboarder. … What I’m saying is that you are a rider under the lights and you just don’t [drop out].”
White’s biggest rival, Canadian Mark McMorris, didn’t join the trash-talking, but instead took aim at the judges. He called the scoring of his qualifying run Thursday “ridiculous,” after he failed to place high enough to advance directly to the final. He now has to try to get there through the semi-final round earlier Saturday.
Canadian teammate Spencer O’Brien, who on Thursday advanced to the women’s final, joked the cocky attitude and rude language had certainly gotten the sport noticed. “Slopestyle is really making a splash,” she said with a smile. “The Internet was just abuzz.”
Canada’s chef de mission Steve Podborski played down the apparent lack of sportsmanship.
“Is it something that we would endorse? No. Is it something that happens in this world? Yes,” he told a press conference. “They’re big boys and I think they’re going to be fine at the end of the day. … We have a great team that doesn’t need to trash-talk, but if they do it as part of their subculture, well, you know …”
For Russians watching the event, trash-talking was the least of their concerns. Some had trouble just figuring out what was going on. It didn’t help that the play-by-play at the venue seemed to be mainly in English, with some translation in Russian and French. (French and English are the official languages of the Olympics.)
“It’s difficult to understand because the announcers, they are in English and the people speak very fast and I can’t understand it,” Ivan Vasyutin said as he sipped on hot chocolate while rock music blasted from nearby speakers.
His wife, Maiya, didn’t mind too much. She just enjoyed the music. “I was dancing,” she said.