High winds wreaked havoc with the women's slopestyle Olympic finals, causing some to charge that organizers exhibited a disregard for athlete safety.
Organizers made the decision to cancel the event’s qualifying rounds and delay the start time of what would be a two-round final in which all 25 athletes competed. Nevertheless, the winds persisted, with 41 of the 50 runs ending in a stumble or crash.
Bronze medalist Enni Rukajarvi of Finlad told BBC Sports that conditions were bad enough that the event should have been cancelled and postponed to a later date. Austrian Anna Gasser, one of the favorites to win the event who did not make the podium, was also upset about how the event was handled.
"I don't think it was a fair competition, and I'm a little disappointed in the organization that they pulled through with it," she told the BBC. "From my point of view I think it was not a good show for women's snowboarding."
The International Olympic Committee asserted that athlete safety was its top priority and said it consulted with coaches before making a decision. “The competition is run by the International Ski Federation," spokesman Mark Adams said. "They know their athletes and they know the conditions they work in."
Jenny Jones of Britain, who took home a bronze medal in 2014 at Sochi but did not compete this year, said it was an "absolute shocker" that the competition was held given the weather conditions. "It was a total lottery of what was going to happen," she said. "I wonder what went on in those conversations and why somebody didn't say 'let's postpone this'. In my mind, I would have wanted it to be postponed.”
In an op-ed published Monday morning, Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports argued that the decision to hold the slopestyle event was irresponsible and without regard for the athletes’ safety.
"Surely if the first priority for FIS were the safety of the athletes, it would have, you know, consulted the athletes and not relied on the word of their coaches. It didn’t,” Passan wrote. “And, hey, while FIS is lying about its priorities, might as well mix in a dollop of victim blaming for good measure. This is classic, feckless, governing-body garbage. It is as gross as it is typical.”
Passan contended that cancelling the event would have resulted in a large gap in NBC’s primetime coverage, which he said was the main reason for coaches and organizers not consulting the athletes about the decision. “Their job is to launch themselves 50 feet into the air, to contort their bodies in inconceivable fashion, to believe that the rails are well-constructed and the jumps sound and the landings clean. Their livelihoods — their lives — rely on trust,” Passan wrote. “And the people in whom they placed that trust sold them out.”
American Jaimie Anderson took gold in the event. Anderson, known for her aerial flips and twists, ran a conservative routine, which was likely focused more on completing the course of jumps with clean landings than on impressing the judges with tricks that likely would have ended in a crash. Anderson, who had already secured gold in her first run, also commanded the last run of the competition, which ended in a crash.