Apoc-Olymps Now

Inside the dark heart of the 2002 Winter Games. By: Jennifer Sherowski

What do you say about this contest that hasn’t already been said? If there’s life on Mars, it has already intercepted the television waves carrying episodes of the Today Show broadcast live from Park City, Utah. Aliens have seen Katie Couric interview the medalists, and what went down that second week in February is old news even to them … or is it? Perhaps the events surrounding 2002′s Olympic snowboarding were a little more strange and diabolical than even NBC knew about. And maybe, just maybe, it took photographer Mark Gallup and me going a few steps farther to find the real story. But unfortunately for us, the wilderness of insanity is immeasurably more tempting than the cold hard light of the truth …

Opening Ceremonies
Spent an hour trapped on a bus with two-dozen carnivorous journalists while the presidential motorcade went by. An Associated Press photographer reached boiling point arguing with the bus driver about letting us off. The driver said he couldn’t do it, that White House security had given him orders he had to follow, and I for one believed him. The situation was seconds from turning into a scene from Lord Of The Flies before they gave the driver permission to let us off.
Once inside the stadium we were subject to many frozen minutes of a glamorized Ice Capades show. A brilliant palate of the nations’ athletes marched around the rink-beaming faces of snowboarders we knew flashing over the teletron. American snowboard-racer Chris Klug was amazed and humble as he helped a handful of U.S. Olympians carry the tattered remnants of the World Trade Center flag through the stadium. Felt the burning cold of metal benches beneath us. Sucked in the smokey fallout of the fireworks. Watched the Olympic torch billowing in winter winds.

Men’s Pipe
Today we were sheep being led to the slaughter as the crowds funneled through steel fencing. People everywhere jabbed flags into the air with fierce enthusiasm. Stood in the media corral at the bottom of the pipe and felt the piercing gaze of hundreds of hungry onlookers on my back. “Who is that?” “Was that Danny Kass?” “What did he just do?” Desperate questions piped into the riotous air.

Tension mounted as several Europeans took themselves out of contention by catching up in the flatbottom during the early morning firestorm. Norwegian Daniel Franck was claimed, as well as the Finnish Markku Koski, who was going huge and hammering 1080s until an air to fakie took him down. The harsh hand of judgement also showed its disfavor on a few. Japanese rider Takaharu Nakai carried out a McTwist to crippler with consistently big airs-even stuck a 900 at the bottom. A run both big and technical, yet the judges were relatively unimpressed. Tommy Czeschin seemed to be destined for greatness, too-adding a Cab 1080 to his mean competition run-but was stuck down in sixth place at the end of the day.

The crowd was a living thing, swelling and inflating as the finals came on. Giacomo Kratter dropped in switch to a monster Haakon-flip. Cowbells and the screams of children made our tender eardrums hurt. The Grenade crew was there with a blow-up doll and ready fight as Danny Kass did every rotation imaginable-inverted 720, corked 900, Cab 1080 melon. J.J. Thomas’ run-the style of riding the judges were looking for-big and charismatic. But Ross Powers overshadowed nearly everything in the first run of the finals. He did unquestionably the largest straight air I’ve seen executed in the history of halfpipe. “I think that was my biggest backside air-ever,” he admitted about reeling it in at twenty-plus feet.

Took a bus down to the medals ceremony in Salt Lake and stood on the stadium floor as the boys came out on stage. That crazy feeling you get in large crowds when voices blend together into one giant roar-it’s almost more impressive than the thing being cheered abou Could hear a thousand teenage girls’ hearts breaking as they looked at those three up there. Our guys-that’s right, ours-on stage for public consumption. Finally you don’t know which is more amazing, them winning these medals together, or the fact of them out there in front of the whole planet and even beyond.

Women’s Pipe
Passed by a group of army recruits on our way to the hill-full fatigues and cold, unmoving stares. They could see everything, even me stealing a package of Pop Rocks when I was eight. We had to go through metal detectors before setting foot on the snow to ensure that there was nothing dangerous on us (our boot eyelets and zippers making it go off like a slot machine spitting out the jackpot). Photographs were not to be taken of this process, we were told.
Followed a few riders through the steel guts of the stadium and out into the bright daylight and tinny cheers of the crowd-feeling like gladiators in some new game. The freshly cut superpipe, shaped carefully by Pat Malendoski, lay out before us in all its terrible glory. The day ahead would meet frenzied crowds and 23 women battling to take home a piece of the meat for their motherland. The level of riding was intense to say the least. Kjersti Buaas Oe, a Burton rookie from Norway, blew doors with corked frontside 540 stalefishes and gluttonous air to fakies. Japanese rider Yoko Miyake saluted the Land Of The Rising Sun with big airs and backflips. Shannon Dunn-Downing and Tricia Byrnes chucked McTwists for Old Glory.

The midwinter sun crept across the eastern horizon, confining sunburns to the left sides of everyone’s face as they gaped on at the action. Swiss-rider Fabienne Reuteler was clean and consistent with her frontside 720s. Dorianne Vidal of France had a mean line of straight airs and a frontside seven, too. Although Vidal was in the lead after the first finals’ run, most people seemed to know that Vermonter Kelly Clark (a favorite going into this event for anyone who knew anything about snowboarding) would turn it up for run number two. And with her finger on the pulse of the crowd, Kelly went Richter, with a huge McTwist to 720, and a 540 lien at the top to boot. Her run was obviously the winner, with three technical tricks and what the judges seemed to love most-giant airs.

Diary Of Kelly Clark:
A Post-Battle Journal Entry
February 13

Whoa, I still can’t believe it-I actually won it! I’ve been on the go since the contest ended, and I’m so overwhelmed with everything. I’ve slept maybe six hours in three days. Even if I had time to sleep, I don’t think I could with all the adrenaline in me. Apparently I broke my wrist in the contest and didn’t know it for an entire day. This was one of the best girls’ events I’ve seen. No one was holding back-it just made me want to ride better. I was super nervous for the firstqualification run. Then in practice for the finals I fell a bunch and freaked myself out. I was in second behind Dorianne dropping in on that last run, so I knew that no matter how I did, I already had a medal. I also knew I would regret it if I didn’t try everything in me, so I did. I actually landed my run, and it was crazy.

Dorianne got bumped to second after my run. It sounds weird, but I felt bad-she was riding so well, and to have the last rider knock you out of first sucks. As far as results, I think the girls’ event went pretty well. They weren’t scoring well on technical tricks and giving a bunch of points for amplitude, but a good run should consist of both. I’m not one to judge, but I think there was some weird stuff happening with the top-six guys. Then again, third through sixth place were all within one point of each other, so it’s hard to say.
The medals’ ceremony was really cool. I was the first American to win a gold, so it was the first time they played the U.S. national anthem in medals’ plaza. Snowboarding really stood out at the Olympics. It drew a younger crowd to the Games and a general crowd to snowboarding. I still don’t consider myself famous, though-that just sounds strange. Maybe I made a name for myself, or something along those lines.

Full Medal Jacket

Ross Powers: Gold
Here you are an Olympic gold medalist-what was your first win in a major contest?
A 1994 USSA United States Amateur Snowboard Association Nationals in June Mountain, California.
Who were your sponsors at the time?
Burton and Arnet.
And now?
Burton, RLX, PowerBar, Activision, Nestea, and Huckdoll.
Was it stressful hanging out in Park City during the contest?
The stressful part was thinking about the event. The security added a bunch of time to everything, but I guess it made everyone feel safer. The house we stayed at was away from it all, so we just hung out and played a bunch of video games.
I heard the Mens’ Halfpipe was the second Olympic event to sell out-how different was this from your experience in Nagano?
In Japan, the halfpipe was up in the mountains at its own site. It was also a regular pipe (not a superpipe), and it was raining during the contest. In Utah, they had huge stands, the weather and pipe were perfect, and the riding level was awesome.
How much more famous do you feel with the general public?
Well, it’s hard to see what snowboarders look like because of all our gear, but the Olympics made a bunch of people know who we are. I think there’s a lot more hype around our sport now-I’ve had so many people tell me that all their kids want to do now is get a board.
What’s it been like for you since the Olympics?
It’s been a crazy few months-a bunch of traveling, early hours, some riding, and partying. Some of it has been work, but we’ve also got to go to some cool places and meet some cool people. I definitely get nervous on national TV-like when I did Letterman, The Weakest Link, and the Action Sports Awards. You’re thankful when it’s over and you didn’t make a fool of yourself.

Danny Kass: Silver
What happened out there?
Well, it all happened. I’m just glad I lived through that whole competition. And I’d like to say hey to all the Gren-nigs out there, especially Travis Rice, because he called Gus (Buckner from Oakley) and had him touch my butt for him.
Do you own the 1080?
I don’t own it, dude. People are stealing it from me. But I owned it today pretty good. I was stoked on it.
What was the most ridiculous question you’ve been asked by a journalist?
I guess someone asked me how the Olympics compared to the X-Games. That seemed pretty stupid to me.

J.J. Thomas: Bronze
What’s the first thing you did when the Olympics were done and you had your freedom back?
I rode powder with Mule (Erik Leines) and made up for all those parties I missed.
How did you feel about the judging?
I tell you what-that day I thought a couple guys might have gotten ripped off, but I watched it on tape a couple weeks later and it was pretty much dead on.
You and Burton, uh, parted ways last season. Hopefully they’re realizing their mistake after this result …
The whole Burton thing worked out pretty well. It kind of inspired me to do what I did this year and allowed me to hook up with new sponsors-that was a huge recharge for me all in itself. I’m really thankful to everyone at Ride and Oakley and for having faith in me.

International Intrigue?
Judged events are what they are. Everyone’s a critic, and few things in life are sweeter than bitching up a storm. With that said, there was of course some considerable mutterings about the weird scoring in the Men’s Halfpipe. And while those of us in the trenches had our hands too full to watch network programming, it also came to my attention that the American television coverage was, uh, selective-almost totally exclusive to riders wearing U.S. uniforms. Rather than venturing onto the slippery slope of favoritism, patriotism, and bad judging in general, we thought wames and a general crowd to snowboarding. I still don’t consider myself famous, though-that just sounds strange. Maybe I made a name for myself, or something along those lines.

Full Medal Jacket

Ross Powers: Gold
Here you are an Olympic gold medalist-what was your first win in a major contest?
A 1994 USSA United States Amateur Snowboard Association Nationals in June Mountain, California.
Who were your sponsors at the time?
Burton and Arnet.
And now?
Burton, RLX, PowerBar, Activision, Nestea, and Huckdoll.
Was it stressful hanging out in Park City during the contest?
The stressful part was thinking about the event. The security added a bunch of time to everything, but I guess it made everyone feel safer. The house we stayed at was away from it all, so we just hung out and played a bunch of video games.
I heard the Mens’ Halfpipe was the second Olympic event to sell out-how different was this from your experience in Nagano?
In Japan, the halfpipe was up in the mountains at its own site. It was also a regular pipe (not a superpipe), and it was raining during the contest. In Utah, they had huge stands, the weather and pipe were perfect, and the riding level was awesome.
How much more famous do you feel with the general public?
Well, it’s hard to see what snowboarders look like because of all our gear, but the Olympics made a bunch of people know who we are. I think there’s a lot more hype around our sport now-I’ve had so many people tell me that all their kids want to do now is get a board.
What’s it been like for you since the Olympics?
It’s been a crazy few months-a bunch of traveling, early hours, some riding, and partying. Some of it has been work, but we’ve also got to go to some cool places and meet some cool people. I definitely get nervous on national TV-like when I did Letterman, The Weakest Link, and the Action Sports Awards. You’re thankful when it’s over and you didn’t make a fool of yourself.

Danny Kass: Silver
What happened out there?
Well, it all happened. I’m just glad I lived through that whole competition. And I’d like to say hey to all the Gren-nigs out there, especially Travis Rice, because he called Gus (Buckner from Oakley) and had him touch my butt for him.
Do you own the 1080?
I don’t own it, dude. People are stealing it from me. But I owned it today pretty good. I was stoked on it.
What was the most ridiculous question you’ve been asked by a journalist?
I guess someone asked me how the Olympics compared to the X-Games. That seemed pretty stupid to me.

J.J. Thomas: Bronze
What’s the first thing you did when the Olympics were done and you had your freedom back?
I rode powder with Mule (Erik Leines) and made up for all those parties I missed.
How did you feel about the judging?
I tell you what-that day I thought a couple guys might have gotten ripped off, but I watched it on tape a couple weeks later and it was pretty much dead on.
You and Burton, uh, parted ways last season. Hopefully they’re realizing their mistake after this result …
The whole Burton thing worked out pretty well. It kind of inspired me to do what I did this year and allowed me to hook up with new sponsors-that was a huge recharge for me all in itself. I’m really thankful to everyone at Ride and Oakley and for having faith in me.

International Intrigue?
Judged events are what they are. Everyone’s a critic, and few things in life are sweeter than bitching up a storm. With that said, there was of course some considerable mutterings about the weird scoring in the Men’s Halfpipe. And while those of us in the trenches had our hands too full to watch network programming, it also came to my attention that the American television coverage was, uh, selective-almost totally exclusive to riders wearing U.S. uniforms. Rather than venturing onto the slippery slope of favoritism, patriotism, and bad judging in general, we thought we’d grill the people who know best-the non-U.S. riders.

Giacomo “The Stallion” Kratter: Italy
What did you think about the results?
I think the judging for some guys was pretty bad-like with the Japanese guy (Takaharu Nakai). I was happy anyway, though, because fourth place behind three of the best riders in the world is a cool result, and the riding level was so high! But I am glad that some guys think that I got ripped off.
It seems like in some ways if you didn’t podium, you may as well have not been there. Did you get any of that?
For me, things have changed. I didn’t get any new sponsors yet, but a lot of people saw me and realized I was riding pretty good, so now I’m starting to have contact with photographers and stuff like that. Also in Italy I’ve started to be pretty famous-so it’s more easy to get chicks.

Heikki Sorsa: Finland
What did you think of the results?
I think they were okay. Judging is really hard to do. I don’t want to say any names, but there were at least three other guys that perhaps deserved to be on the podium as well.

Did you notice or feel any American favoritism?
It’s only natural that U.S. riders got more media attention, given that the Olympics took place on their soil. It would be the same for Finnish riders if the Olympics were to be held there. Regarding the judging, the Americans simply rode the best on this day. I wouldn’t say they were being prioritized.
The guys who podiumed just signed a major deal with Coke to ride for Nestea. Have things changed a lot for you since February?
No, it’s still pretty much the same. Some fourteen-year-old kids were calling all the time, so I had to get a new cell-phone number. Also, a few mainstream magazines that never gave a rat’s ass about snowboarding are now wanting to do interviews. That’s it, though. But if it’s true that those guys signed with Coca Cola, then I’m bummed, ’cause I drink more Coca Cola myself than J.J., Ross, Danny, and their whole families together! Call me, Coca Cola! I’ll ride for you for a case a week!
Fabienne Reuteler: Switzerland
What did you think about the results?
It’s sad that mistakes like this happen at such a big and important event-even they could not handle the high competition level, I guess, or they were corrupted. It’s very bad for our sport. Every grandpa noticed that there was something wrong going on with the judging.
Did you see any American favoritism going on anywhere?
All my friends in the U.S. told me they hardly showed any of the runs of non-U.S. riders (on TV). For sure, the Americans where riding very good. But it is an international competition, so people should be interested in more than only American riders! The judging in the mens’ competition was pretty U.S.-friendly.

Results
Womens’ Halfpipe
1. Kelly Clark
2. Dorianne Vidal
3. Fabienne Reuteler
4. Kjersti Buaas Oe
5. Shannon Dunn-Downing
6. Tricia Byrnes
7. Nici Pederzolli
8. Yoko Miyake
9. Minna Hesso
10. Lisa Therese Wiik
11. Nicola Thost
12. Michiyo Hashimoto

Mens’ Halfpipe
1. Ross Powers
2. Danny Kass
3. J.J. Thomas
4. Giacomo Kratter
5. Takaharu Nakai
6. Tommy Czeschin
7. Heikki Sorsa
8. Markku Koski
9. Trevor Andrew
10. Daniel Franck
11. Magnus Sterner
12. Jan Michaelis

Womens’ Parallel GS
1. Isabelle Blanc
2. Karine Ruby
3. Lidia Trettel
4. Jagna Marczulajtis
5. Maria Kirchgasser

Mens’ Parallel GS
1. Phillip Schoch
2. Richard Richardsson
3. Chris Klug
4. Nicolas Huet
5. Mathieu Bozzetto
ht we’d grill the people who know best-the non-U.S. riders.

Giacomo “The Stallion” Kratter: Italy
What did you think about the results?
I think the judging for some guys was pretty bad-like with the Japanese guy (Takaharu Nakai). I was happy anyway, though, because fourth place behind three of the best riders in the world is a cool result, and the riding level was so high! But I am glad that some guys think that I got ripped off.
It seems like in some ways if you didn’t podium, you may as well have not been there. Did you get any of that?
For me, things have changed. I didn’t get any new sponsors yet, but a lot of people saw me and realized I was riding pretty good, so now I’m starting to have contact with photographers and stuff like that. Also in Italy I’ve started to be pretty famous-so it’s more easy to get chicks.

Heikki Sorsa: Finland
What did you think of the results?
I think they were okay. Judging is really hard to do. I don’t want to say any names, but there were at least three other guys that perhaps deserved to be on the podium as well.

Did you notice or feel any American favoritism?
It’s only natural that U.S. riders got more media attention, given that the Olympics took place on their soil. It would be the same for Finnish riders if the Olympics were to be held there. Regarding the judging, the Americans simply rode the best on this day. I wouldn’t say they were being prioritized.
The guys who podiumed just signed a major deal with Coke to ride for Nestea. Have things changed a lot for you since February?
No, it’s still pretty much the same. Some fourteen-year-old kids were calling all the time, so I had to get a new cell-phone number. Also, a few mainstream magazines that never gave a rat’s ass about snowboarding are now wanting to do interviews. That’s it, though. But if it’s true that those guys signed with Coca Cola, then I’m bummed, ’cause I drink more Coca Cola myself than J.J., Ross, Danny, and their whole families together! Call me, Coca Cola! I’ll ride for you for a case a week!
Fabienne Reuteler: Switzerland
What did you think about the results?
It’s sad that mistakes like this happen at such a big and important event-even they could not handle the high competition level, I guess, or they were corrupted. It’s very bad for our sport. Every grandpa noticed that there was something wrong going on with the judging.
Did you see any American favoritism going on anywhere?
All my friends in the U.S. told me they hardly showed any of the runs of non-U.S. riders (on TV). For sure, the Americans where riding very good. But it is an international competition, so people should be interested in more than only American riders! The judging in the mens’ competition was pretty U.S.-friendly.

Results
Womens’ Halfpipe
1. Kelly Clark
2. Dorianne Vidal
3. Fabienne Reuteler
4. Kjersti Buaas Oe
5. Shannon Dunn-Downing
6. Tricia Byrnes
7. Nici Pederzolli
8. Yoko Miyake
9. Minna Hesso
10. Lisa Therese Wiik
11. Nicola Thost
12. Michiyo Hashimoto

Mens’ Halfpipe
1. Ross Powers
2. Danny Kass
3. J.J. Thomas
4. Giacomo Kratter
5. Takaharu Nakai
6. Tommy Czeschin
7. Heikki Sorsa
8. Markku Koski
9. Trevor Andrew
10. Daniel Franck
11. Magnus Sterner
12. Jan Michaelis

Womens’ Parallel GS
1. Isabelle Blanc
2. Karine Ruby
3. Lidia Trettel
4. Jagna Marczulajtis
5. Maria Kirchgasser

Mens’ Parallel GS
1. Phillip Schoch
2. Richard Richardsson
3. Chris Klug
4. Nicolas Huet
5. Mathieu Bozzetto