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Ski federation to snowboarders: 'Nobody is forced to go down and compete'

Dangerous crosswinds whipped across the mountains at the Phoenix Snow Park in PyeongChang, South Korea, on Monday.

The wind — and crippling cold — has been delaying and postponing Olympic events for days. The International Ski Federation canceled an alpine-skiing event Monday afternoon because of it.

Yet the FIS gave the go-ahead on the women’s snowboarding slopestyle event on Monday, drawing controversy not only from fans, but the riders themselves.

But FIS spokesperson Jenny Wideke stood by the tough conditions on Tuesday, saying they didn’t make any rider take on the course.

“We know it was very difficult conditions for the riders,” Wideke told The Guardian. “Each rider has two opportunities to perform their run. Nobody is forced to go down and compete.”

Of the 50 runs in the event, 41 of them included a stumble or crash. Riders were thrown across the course, and were often seen pulling up before jumps due to the rough conditions. There were no serious injuries, though there easily could have been.

Miyabi Onitsuka of Japan crashes in the women’s slopestyle finals on Monday in PyeongChang, South Korea. (REUTERS)

Many riders weren’t happy about it, and were quick to voice their frustrations.

“When it’s alpine, they have a higher status,” said Norwegian rider Silje Norendal, one of the world’s best, who fell in her second run and finished fourth. “And they really want a good show. I feel like we’re definitely coming in second. We can actually get super hurt. And it’s just really unfair. It’s such a young sport. It’s just sad that we all feel sometimes that we’re coming in second.”

American Jamie Anderson was one of the few riders who made it down the mountain clean, winning her second consecutive gold medal in the event. Anna Gasser — who fell both times en route to a 15th-place finish — said after that Anderson was one of the few riders who felt comfortable with even competing.

One of the biggest issues with the decision to green-light the event, Canadian rider Spencer O’Brien said, was that the riders themselves were never consulted. FIS just spoke with coaches ahead of time.

“And I think that’s so dumb, because coaches don’t ride the course,” O’Brien said. “I trust my coach so much, and I would not let him speak for me. In cases like this, you have to speak to the riders and have to see how they feel about their safety. And that wasn’t taken into consideration.

“We honestly didn’t get a say,” she continued. “There was no riders’ meeting to discuss options or to see if the majority wanted to ride or didn’t want to ride. We just got told we had to go.”

In a statement released after the event, FIS said that “the first priority for FIS is the safety of the athletes and FIS would never stage a competition if this could not be assured” and that “the nature of outdoor sports also requires adapting to the elements.”

Wideke confirmed that there was one official complaint made after the event, but wouldn’t confirm which rider filed it.

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