Beginners Guide to Olympic Snowboarding - Sochi 2014

13 January 2014 / 08:30

Snowboarding is the newest sport at the Olympic Winter Games having not officially appeared until Nagano 1998, where there was just two events for men and women – halfpipe and giant slalom.

Giant slalom – a downhill event similar to giant slalom skiing – only featured at Nagano 1998 though, replaced by parallel giant slalom – a downhill head-to-head race – for Salt Lake City 2002.

Nagano 1998 Snowboarding Winter Olympics

At Turin 2006 snowboardcross, whereby athletes tackle a downhill course involving jumps, berms and other obstacles, joined halfpipe and parallel giant slalom on the Olympic programme.

Jamie Nicholls Team GB Snowboard

It remained that way at Vancouver 2010 while at Sochi 2014 the Games programme for snowboarding will be at its biggest with the addition of parallel slalom and slopestyle to take the number of events to five.

Parallel slalom is a tighter equivalent of parallel giant slalom while slopestyle requires athletes to perform a series of tricks off jumps, terrain features and rails.

America are the dominant snowboarding nation at the Olympics and in Shaun White and Seth Wescott have two of the three most successful athletes at the Games.

Shaun White Team USA Snowboard Olympics

Both have two gold medals while Philipp Schoch of Switzerland is the other double gold medallist. White is arguably the greatest snowboarder ever and has 13 X Games gold medals.

Great Britain are yet to win an Olympic snowboarding medal and didn’t have any representation at Nagano 1998. That changed at Salt Lake City 2002 when Lesley McKenna was selected.

Lesley McKenna Team GB Vancouver 2010

She went on to feature at both Turin 2006 and Vancouver 2010 as Britain fielded four athletes at each while the team for Sochi is the biggest and most promising yet.

There are five events for men and five events for women at Sochi 2014 producing ten gold medals – halfpipe, snowboardcross, parallel giant slalom, parallel slalom and slopestyle with the latter two added for the Games in order to attract a younger audience.

In halfpipe athletes compete in a semi-circular ditch dug deep into the hill and, using speed gained on the slope, come up over the rim of the pipe and perform acrobatic aerials tricks on which they are judged.

Ben Kilner Team GB Snowboard Halfpipe

Split into three parts, qualification determines who advances straight to the final and who must contest the semi-finals with 12 athletes in total bidding for medals in the final round.

Snowboardcross is held on a course including jumps, bumps, berms and other obstacles and begins with a qualifying round whereby athletes race on their own against the clock.

The 32 fastest athletes are split into groups of four, who race in heats against each other with the top two proceeding to the next round until there are four athletes left to contest the final.

Parallel giant slalom involves head-to-head racing but begins with a qualification round where athletes compete on their own against the clock to determine the 16 fastest who advance to the elimination round.

Racing in a knockout format two athletes compete on two, side-by-side courses and switch courses after one run. In run two the fastest of the two athletes starts first, equivalent to the amount of time they led by, with the first past the post then the winner.

Winners advance from the last 16 to the quarter-finals and then to the semi-finals, where the winners compete in the gold-medal race and the losers the bronze medal race.

Parallel slalom follows the same format although there are more gates and they are placed closer together, demanding racers to be quicker from edge to edge.

Adam McLeish Team GB

Meanwhile slopestyle is like halfpipe whereby athletes’ performances are judged. The more athletes make best use of all the features and jumps, along with producing technically difficult tricks that are executed well and link together with flow, the higher they will score.

Katie Ormerod Team GB

Height gained on jumps is also a factor while a failure to land cleanly can lead to a decrease in score. There are no set rules although new tricks generally score high.

Slopestyle begins with a qualification round from which 22 advance with the top eight progressing straight to the final and a semi-final scheduled to determine a further four for the final, where the athletes with the best scores go last.