Count Vancouver Island’s highest-profile Olympian among those wondering if women’s snowboarding is garnering the same level of respect as other Olympic events.
Courtenay snowboarder Spencer O’Brien was one of many casualties waylaid by gusting winds in the women’s slopestyle competition Sunday at the Pyeongchang Olympics in South Korea.
Winds prevented the 30-year-old from putting down a run — she couldn’t generate enough speed to make it up a ramp on her second run — en route to a 22nd-place finish.
A number of riders have criticized the International Ski Federation (FIS) for starting the competition under such conditions.
“Those decisions are made by different event directors, but it does feel like we aren’t getting a fair shake,” O’Brien said by email from Korea. “We do a very dangerous sport to begin with, so it is simply reckless to make us do it in such dangerous conditions.”
An FIS statement says the nature of outdoor sports “requires adapting to the elements,” considering it within the boundaries to stage the competition safely. One official suggested that riders weren’t forced to go down the hill and compete.
“If an athlete was to drop out, it wouldn’t postpone their run, it would mean not competing at all,” O’Brien said. “Other events were, and have continued to be, postponed since slopestyle was run.”
On the day of the event, she said competitors were not asked how they felt about safety. Organizers made the call without discussing options with her and the other snowboarders.
“Usually in a case like this, the event will hold a rider’s meeting to get a consensus on how the course is riding and if it’s doable to compete in,” said O’Brien, the 2012 world champion and a familiar face to Olympic-watchers thanks to being featured in an ongoing RBC television ad.
“If it’s deemed too dangerous, it will be postponed or cancelled altogether. I still have not heard anything from FIS on why an athlete meeting didn’t happen.”
On a positive note, the Alert Bay native is happy for Canadian teammate Laurie Blouin, who won silver in slopestyle. Defending champion Jamie Anderson of the U.S. won gold and Enni Rukajarvi of Finland won bronze.
“I’m so stoked for Laurie, she has been working very hard for a long time and it was amazing to see that all come together for her on the biggest stage,” O’Brien said.
“Through all this controversy, we have still ended up with three incredible women with medals. These girls put down runs in such challenging conditions and they deserve every bit of this moment.”
This is O’Brien’s second Winter Olympiad. She placed 12th at the 2014 Sochi Games, before which she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis.
She will get another crack at a medal in the big air event in Pyeongchang. Qualifying runs for that begin Monday.