Olympic slopestyle produced 'unacceptable' number of injuries
In this Feb. 8, 2014, photo, United States' Sage Kotsenburg takes a jump during the men's snowboard slopestyle final at the Winter Olympics in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP / Sergei Grits)
John Leicester, The Associated Press
Published Saturday, April 12, 2014 8:02PM EDT
MONACO -- Maybe Shaun White was right all along.
The Olympic debut of ski and snowboard slopestyle -- which White withdrew from, fearing he might get hurt -- produced an "unacceptably high" number of injuries at the Sochi Winter Games and should be dropped from future editions if the disciplines don't become safer, says an International Olympic Committee official charged with monitoring injuries among Olympians.
Lars Engebretsen, head of scientific activities at the IOC's medical and scientific department, said injury rates in slopestyle, where skiers and boarders did flips, spins and jumps on a hair-raising course of humps and obstacles, were "much higher than any other sport in Sochi."
"To me it was unacceptably high, absolutely ... very, very, very high," Engebretsen said in an interview with The Associated Press, without giving specific numbers. "Right now the injury rate as it was in Sochi was too high to be a sport that we have in the Olympics."
Any decision to drop slopestyle would have to be taken by the IOC's executive board, led by Thomas Bach. Engebretsen was not on that board, and he said his "gut feeling" was that the IOC will give slopestyle another chance to prove itself and keep it on the program at the next winter games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, in 2018.
Engebretsen led the IOC's program that monitored athlete injuries at the last four Olympics, summer and winter.
"I can say what I feel: That sport should change, otherwise we shouldn't have it. But the IOC may not follow that," he said.
Still, when asked if slopestyle could lose its Olympic spot, he replied: "That's the potential.
"In this case, the only reason why slopestyle should be taken, could be taken out is the safety concerns."
Engebretsen was speaking on the sidelines of a conference on sports injuries. In an address to the conference, he described slopestyle as "problematic" and said: "Something has to be done with that sport."
White, snowboarding's biggest star, hurt his left wrist practicing on the slopestyle course and pulled out of the competition to focus solely on the halfpipe. White said at the time: "The potential risk of injury is a bit too much for me to gamble my other Olympic goals on."
Engebretsen said White's withdrawal was "a very bad sign."
Engebretsen is head doctor for the Norwegian Olympic Committee. Norwegian medal hope Torstein Horgmo was among those hurt on the steep jumps at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park. Horgmo broke his collarbone practicing a difficult trick, forcing him out of the Sochi Games.
Engebretsen said experts were now digging into why slopestyle saw so many injuries.
"We are looking at the venues, the snow, the equipment they have, and there is a lot of concern," he said. "There is a lot of discussions going on," both inside the IOC and at the governing body of skiing, he added.
The scrutiny was also necessary because slopestyle's Olympic debut will encourage more people to try it, he said. Slopestyle jumps and rails are already popular features at some Alpine winter resorts, particularly with younger boarders and skiers.
"That's partly the reason why we have to be careful with it, because everything that's going on TV from the Olympics creates a trend, people want to do the same thing," he said.
"Slopestyle is exciting. But it's just become, right now anyway, too exciting."