To bail or keep shredding? When Olympians give up
February 13, 2014
KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — Canadian skier Alex Beaulieu-Marchand stood at the top of the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park slopestyle course, then leaned forward to make the first of his two runs in the Olympic final. He fell on his first jump, then skipped the last ramp and skied off the course.
His reaction afterward? "It happens."
His final scores on Thursday — a 5 and a 21.4 — could have been significantly higher had he kept going or improvised better after the early fall. But slopestyle and halfpipe skiing and snowboarding have brought a different element to the Winter Games: Bailing completely on a run if it doesn't go perfectly early.
In these all-or-nothing sports, when an athlete misses a trick, many react by giving up.
"I'm just super happy that I had the run to compete," said Beaulieu Marchand, who finished last of 12 contenders in a final swept by three Americans. "I knew I could have been up there. It's all good — next time."
Imagine figure skaters just going around in circles to orchestral music if a triple toe loop doesn't go their way. Or a gymnast walking off after a slip on the balance beam. Or a synchronized swimmer leaving the pool after messing up a move.
German pairs figure skaters Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy didn't quit after falling on their first jump Wednesday night. They got up and ended up winning bronze medals.
Yet one night earlier, snowboarder after snowboarder on the halfpipe didn't adjust to less-than-ideal conditions, then just slid down the hill if they missed an early trick.
It was almost like a video game — if you mess up, just hit restart. But the Olympics don't give unlimited chances to play again.
Athletes and coaches say part of it is speed — you can't get enough air to do a worthwhile trick if your momentum drops. But the approach also shows the go-for-it-all attitude that's common in extreme sports.
Didn't get it? OK, wasn't your moment. Move on.
"Once you mess up one piece there's no point in going — you're not going to get on the podium," said Josiah Wells of New Zealand, who fully bailed on his second run Thursday, jumping off the ramps without doing any tricks that would have given him a higher score.
Toben Sutherland, a slopestyle coach for Canada, said the judging in freestyle events is different than in other judged sports like figure skating or gymnastics, with small margins and judges looking to dock points. At the highest levels, he said, athletes know that they can't recover from even small early mistakes. He said Beaulieu-Marchand made no technical mistakes on his runs, but misjudged his landings.
The podium-or-bust attitude is especially strong at the Olympics, Sutherland said.
"You really gotta be good at finishing a feature, then not celebrating whether it was good and not getting caught up in whether it was bad," Sutherland said. "And move on."
Oskar Garcia can be reached on Twitter at http://twitter.com/oskargarcia