Five-ring Circus

Olympics Jerk Watch: the Sporteaucrats Who Risked Snowboarders’ Lives

U.S. snowboarder Julia Marino falls in a run of the women’s slopestyle final at the Phoenix Park during the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games on Monday in Pyeongchang.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Martin Bureau/AFP/Getty Images.

Names: Roberto Moresi, Roman Arnold, Matt Jennings, and Park Young-nam

Home countries: Italy, Switzerland, United States of America, and South Korea, respectively

Known for: supervising the Olympic slopestyle snowboarding events, disregarding the weather, endangering the lives of snowboarders

Why they might be jerks: It has been a very windy Winter Olympics. The winds have been so high in Pyeongchang that some Alpine skiing events have been postponed, and the qualifying round of women’s slopestyle snowboarding was cancelled because of dangerously high winds. By the time the slopestyle finals rolled around on Monday, it was still very windy. But the four members of the International Ski Federation (FIS) jury supervising the event decided to run the finals as scheduled, anyway. This was a jerky decision.

The women’s slopestyle finals were painful, both in the “this is brutal to watch” sense and in the “falling down hurts” sense. The wind significantly impeded the athletes’ performances, as Olympian after Olympian zoomed into their jumps only to tumble to the ground. Per Reuters, “Only five of the 25 riders who competed made it down the first run without falling in the difficult conditions, which included hard snow, and none of them completed two error-free runs.” A BBC commentator said it would be “irresponsible” to continue the competition. And yet the show went on.

If you were watching with the sound off, you might think the point of the sport was to fall down as brutally as possible. Add dangerous winds to a sport that involves large ramps and big jumps, and you’ll get a bunch of athletes who either crash or hold back to prevent crashing. American snowboarder Jamie Anderson took gold with a score of 83.00—12.25 points lower than her gold medal–winning tally from 2014—and after the race admitted she’d taken a “mellow” approach as a result of the conditions. Mellow snowboarding is boring snowboarding.

FIS surely could have seen this coming. FIS headquarters are in Switzerland. I’ve been to Switzerland—I spent an hour in Zurich once while changing trains, time I spent walking around the neighborhood immediately surrounding the train station. I can assure you, reader, that there is wind in Switzerland. FIS surely knows how wind works. FIS, in fact, was concerned enough about the wind to postpone the women’s giant slalom ski race, which was scheduled around the same time as the slopestyle finals. So why did the FIS jury decide to hold the slopestyle event anyway?

According to an FIS statement issued after the event concluded, “the nature of outdoor sports also requires adapting to the elements.” Speaking to the Star, a Canadian newspaper, Roberto Moresi elaborated on this line of thinking, noting that heavy wind “does make tricks more complicated and performance decreases a little, but that’s part of what we have to face doing outdoor sports.” This strikes me as a jerky and overly passive kiss-off from Moresi, who, after all, is one of the four people who gets to decide which conditions are and aren’t worth facing. Shit happens might look good on a bumper sticker, but it’s a lousy excuse when you’re responsible for safeguarding athletes’ well-being.

FIS also announced that the jury “monitored the weather conditions closely throughout the day, including consulting with the coaches, and considered it was within the boundaries to stage the competition safely.” What’s more, it was a jerky move to consult the coaches and not also consult the athletes. “I don’t know why we weren’t asked and I don’t know why it was ran, to be honest,” said Canadian snowboarder Spencer O’Brien. I know why: because the FIS jury is full of jerks who would not themselves have to snowboard in high winds!

Many of the snowboarders disputed the FIS’ characterization of the event’s safety. “I think everyone’s just really happy that no one got seriously hurt and we’re all on our two feet,” said American snowboarder Hailey Langland. “I don’t even believe in God but I am praying to someone up there—don’t put me in a hospital,” said Cheryl Maas of the Netherlands. “I’m most happy no one got hurt really bad,” said Finland’s Enni Rukajarvi, who took bronze with a score of 75.38, which would have only been good enough for sixth place in Sochi. “We tried to speak to officials but the Olympics put us under pressure to do it today,” said Austria’s Anna Gasser. While I’m not privy to the intricacies of the scheduling in Pyeongchang, the women’s slopestyle finals took place close to the start of the Olympics. You’d certainly think someone could find three relatively wind-free hours at some point in the next two weeks.

Also, three of the four jury members have “athlete profiles” on the official Pyeongchang Games website despite not being actual Olympic athletes. This is probably just a quirk of the website, rather than an example of stolen glory, but it’s still kind of jerky.

Why they might not be jerks: As Barry Petchesky noted at Deadspin, the FIS jury may well have been under pressure from the Olympics and NBC to run the event so they’d have something to put on television, especially given that women’s giant slalom had already been postponed. This doesn’t mean the FIS jury members aren’t responsible for their own decisions, but they may not have had as much latitude as it seems. Also, in the end, no one was seriously injured in the finals, so maybe the FIS jury did, indeed, know what it was doing. Finally, maybe they really don’t know how wind works. I was only in Switzerland for an hour, after all. Who’s to say if there’s wind there, really?

Jerk Score: I’ll give these FIS officials 1 point for style, because the body’s official statement could have been written with a lot more panache. 3 points for technical merit, because they did a flawless job facilitating some truly ugly snowboarding. 1.5 points for execution, because they also could have stood at the starting gates and waved fans in the athletes’ faces to make it even windier. And 1 out of 1 points in the category of “inadvertent evangelism,” for inspiring Cheryl Maas to find religion. 6.5 out of 10 points for Moresi, Arnold, Jennings, and Park. Next!

Previously on Olympics Jerk Watch: Yes, Mike Pence Is a Jerk. But Is He an Olympics Jerk?

Read the rest of Slate’s coverage of the Pyeongchang Olympics.

• Adam Rippon Skated Flawlessly but Lost to Two Guys Who Fell. Here’s Why.

• Why Isn’t NBC Talking About the Sexual Harassment Allegations Against Shaun White?

• Chloe Kim Is a New Kind of Olympic Hero