Since its arrival at the Olympics in 1998, snowboarding has rapidly gained a loyal following due to a widespread appreciation for the close competition of races and technical mastery needed for its many obstacles. Using a board, instead of skis, to descend rapidly down a challenging slope, fans enjoy how the sport matches athletes against each other, more than merely trying to beat the clock.
Anticipating the excitement from this ever-expanding pursuit at Sochi 2014 , here is a look at the development of snowboarding , its diverse events, and some of its brightest stars.
After several decades as an alternative sport lacking the prestige of traditional winter pursuits, snowboarding was officially added to the Olympics for the Nagano games in 1998. The skill originated in the United States and was influenced by summer activities, such as skateboarding and motocross, just as much as the winter events with which it shares the slopes.
Skipping the process of demonstration status, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) wisely realized the public's demand for this sport was increasingly popular. 1997 saw the first "Winter X Games" and many athletes could make a natural transition to participating in similar Olympic events.The first games in 1998 saw the inclusion of four snowboarding medal events, including men's and women's halfpipe and men's and women's giant slalom.
While the artistry and aerial majesty of the halfpipe proved a definite keeper, the IOC quickly worked on reshaping the sport to meet public appetite. Giant slalom was eliminated after only a single performance and it was replaced with a giant parallel slalom event. This enabled athletes to race side-by-side on parallel courses much to the excitement of fans watching at home. This success of this shifting emphasis would only lead to further expansion of the growing sport.
In 2006, snowboard cross was introduced so that Olympians could fight for first place by competing directly for the same space. Much like the creation of short track speed skating a decade earlier, this event dramatically brought pack racing to the mountain. The addition of a men's and woman's event raised the medals available in snowboarding to six and it would remain at that level for Vancouver 2010.
With the sport continuing to surge in popularity, the IOC again moved to expand snowboarding for 2014. Emphasizing the technical mastery of difficult turns in place of raw speed, parallel slalom will make its debut at Sochi with both men's and women's events, as will the very different competition of slopestyle. These additions bring the total number of events in snowboarding to ten. Not accidentally, this appropriately events the number of Olympic medals in snowboarding with alpine skiing.
Men's and women's halfpipe: This event always captures attention, as its aerial tricks and fast movements from side to side were actually derived from the world of skateboarding. The snow-filled halfpipe is a semi-circular ramp, which is formed with snow so that athletes can glide across its rounded walls. Scoring is handled by judges who can rate the performance on a scale of 50 points.
Men's and women's parallel slalom: A new event for both men and women at Sochi, this form of snowboard racing will offer the thrilling image of two side-by-side racers going down the same hill on neighboring courses. The distance between the gates that must be snowboarded through is very narrow, which results in sharp turns and slower speeds to the bottom.
Men's and women's parallel giant slalom: This form of snowboard racing follows similar rules to the parallel slalom event, but uses a longer course and its gates are separated by greater distances so athletes can build up faster speeds.
Men's and women's slopestyle: Slopestype is one most celebrated activities of annual the "X Games" and even the more traditional Olympics games took notice. Sochi will be the debut for this exciting event, where participants select a lane to move down the hill and must navigate a series of obstacles, while performing tricks.
Men's and women's snowboard cross: The unique aspect of this fun competition is that Olympians not only race against each other, they literally race alongside fellow participants. Four racers at a time simultaneously enter a narrow, sloped course, where they must deal with turns and jumps as they move down the mountain. Track position is critical and athletes often collide with one another fighting for a spot.
Shaun White (USA) -- After years of success performing aerial stunts for the winter and summer versions of the X Games, this global superstar became an Olympian in 2006. The charismatic red-head has since dominated his signature event of halfpipe, winning gold in Turin 2006 and Vancouver 2010. White will be an overwhelming favorite to triumph in halfpipe again at Sochi, but this time he can earn a second medal in the new sport of slopestyle. The 27 year-old is an 8-time medalist in this competition at the X Games.
Seth Wescott (USA) -- Also coming to the Olympics from success at the X Games, this Maine native is the only person ever to win the snowboard cross event at the winter games. Wescott took gold in both 2006 and 2010 and the 37-year-old would love to become the first American male to win gold in a Winter Olympic event for three straight games. He might not get the chance, however, since he finished near the back of the pack in this month's final Sochi qualifier.
Philipp Schoch (Switzerland) -- Winner of the parallel giant slalom event in Salt Lake City 2002 and Turin 2006, the Swiss athlete was the first snowboarder to capture multiple golds in the Winter Olympics. Schoch quickly became one of the more compelling stories of the new sport because his closest competitor was often his younger brother Simon, who finished right behind him and settled for silver in 2006.
Karine Ruby (France) -- Since giant slalom was only included at the 1998 games, this French snowboarded remains the only woman to earn gold during Olympic competition. Ruby triumphed in Nagano and then moved over to parallel giant slalom, where she took silver at Salt Lake City 2002. She retired after failing to medal at the 2006 games and tragically died in a mountain-climbing accident in 2009 at the age of 31.
Lindsey Jacobellis (USA) -- This 28-year-old American is a 7-time champion in snowboard cross at the X Games, but has found competing at the Olympics substantially harder. Jacobellis took a silver in the event at Turin 2006, but disappointingly was disqualified during a preliminary run at Vancouver 2010. In December, Jacobellis qualified for another shot at Sochi, and the popular personality will certainly be a crowd favorite to land the elusive gold medal.
Jeff Briscoe is a longtime fan of Olympic competition and a regular contributor to the Yahoo Contributor Network. He will be talking Sochi 2014 on The Sports Train radio show in Southwest Florida.
- Sports & Recreation