KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — Rider after rider took a crash course Monday night on an Olympic halfpipe that looked only half ready with less than 24 hours until men’s competition is set to start.
There were dozens of falls, very few big tricks and a lot of complaining during a practice session that was pushed from morning to night while workers tried to make fixes. The men’s event is Tuesday, and American Shaun White will be seeking his third straight gold medal.
“When you see every other person fall, you know something’s wrong,” said American Hannah Teter, who took gold in 2006 and silver four years ago. “It’s a little dangerous. I’ve seen more people fall today than I saw all season. It’s dangerous because it’s crappy.”
American Danny Davis labeled the halfpipe as “garbage” on Sunday. After returning Monday, he said things were slightly improved but not ideal.
“It’s a bummer to show up to an event like the Olympics and not have the quality of the halfpipe match the quality of the riders,” Davis said. “Anyone who watched practice tonight can see there were a bunch of people bouncing around in the flat bottom.”
White called it “pretty hard to ride,” but said it was nothing riders haven’t dealt with before at other competitions.
“The flat bottom is just sand and mush,” he said. “It’s pretty heavy. And once everyone gets in there, it just turns to mush.”
Riders said the steeply vertical pitch of the halfpipe has largely been corrected. But the bottom of the pipe is bouncy and slow. Dozens of riders clattered through the bottom, which slows speed and causes wrecks.
Davis said organizers told him they would treat the halfpipe with chemicals that keep the ice frozen at higher temperatures. Highs were in the 40s on Monday.
American coach Mike Jankowski said riders were simply going to have to deal with the conditions presented to them.
“If everything were perfect every time and this were an indoor sport, we’d be figure skating,” he said. “Whoever deals with the conditions the best is going to win a medal and whoever gives up isn’t going to win a medal.”
American Kelly Clark, who won gold in 2002 and bronze in 2010, said conditions were less than ideal but she’s been preparing for that.
“Any less-than-perfect pipe we dealt with the last four years, I said, ‘If this is what we’re dealing with in Sochi, I want to be ready,’” she said. “I look at it as an opportunity.”
Four years ago in Vancouver, riders complained about the pipe in the lead-up but said conditions improved for the actual contest.
They’re hoping for the same thing here.
“The first contest is tomorrow and nobody’s ready,” Teter said. “They haven’t been able to practice their tricks. They’re trying to stay alive every run. It’s harsh.”