Photo by Alex Livesey–Getty Images. Women%uFFFDs snowboarding halfpipe medalists at the Winter Olympics, Vancouver, with Hannah Teter (bronze), Torah Bright (gold), and Kelly Clark (silver) on the podium at the bottom of the pipe.
On Thursday night, February 18, 2010, the women’s halfpipe event in the Vancouver Olympics set new heights, literally, for the sport of snowboarding. Even though it was obviously over-shadowed by the men’s competition and Shaun White’s gold medal win the night before, it was another shining example of how this sport not only dominates the winter Olympic Games now -from advertising, marketing, and promotions -but how this sport continues to evolve at an incredibly fast pace. In its wake are stunned officials who can barely keep up with judging and a governing body that doesn’t quite know how to deal with such an imaginative and enticing group of lifestyle athletes. That’s what snowboarding provides–the spirit of a specific sporting lifestyle–one that captures the heart of the very people the IOC hopes to attract, which is youth culture.
The women’s halfpipe competition was icing on the cake.
Like the USA men’s snowboarding halfpipe team, the entire roster of the USA women’s snowboarding halfpipe team all made it to the finals. This is another clear indication that the sport, which originated in the USA, is a sport that our country continues to dominate in many ways. You could say its “Americana.” For the women, tricks like Gretchen Bleiler’s inverted 720 -one of the hardest in the sport to accomplish -and gold medalist Torah Bright’s Switch Backside 720s, not to mention Kelly Clark and Hannah Teter’s 900’s indicate a new level for the sport in general.
Photo by Streeter Leeka–Getty Images of Torah Bright during her gold medal-winning run at the Vancouver Olympics 2010. She pulled 2 Switch Backside 720%uFFFDs.
Coming from the industry as the first female on the editorial team of Snowboarder Magazine -when Sorrel’s were our snowboarding boots and a halfpipe didn’t even exist yet -watching the women’s halfpipe competition at the Vancouver Olympics was incredible, if not tinged with a bit of nostalgia. So much herstory behind what it took to get these women to where they are today. From Tina Basich, Michele Taggart, and Shannon Dunn and the things they all mastered back when equipment wasn’t where it is today. Not to mention the women in the industry of snowboarding -in manufacturing, marketing, and events. Unlike many other sports, men and women were always a part of its creation from the very beginning, which is why it remains so powerful among a new, more post-gender generation than other sports. Women simply make up a bigger part of the foundation.
In mainstream news, there were many reports of the women snowboarders falling in the finals. They did, and it was heart-breaking, especially when Gretchen Bleiler hit the lip after landing a 900 earlier, placing her in 11th overall. Still, it wasn’t wrong for each snowboarder to pull out all of the stops and push the limits. The fact that every one of them rode to the extreme of their abilities is an inspiration to all women in general.
Photo by Dimitar Dilkoff-Getty Images. Australian Torah Bright accepting her gold medal at the Vancouver Olympics for women%uFFFDs halfpipe snowboarding.
Snowboarding is one of those sports that has a much broader ripple effect than most others. For example, based on data in our North American Youth Culture Studies, snowboarding consistently ranks higher in percentages than males in results from the question “What sport do you most want to learn?” among 13-25-year-olds. Since 2000, which is when Label Networks started keeping track, snowboarding has always been in the top 5 sports most wanted to learn.
In our European Youth Culture Studies, which cover 13-25-year-olds across the UK, France, Italy, Spain, and Germany, snowboarding again ranks higher among females than males when asked what sport they most would like to learn, and it ranks within the top 5 sports to learn overall. Even in our Japan Youth Culture Studies, snowboarding is high on both accounts. And not too far behind, in our China Youth Culture Studies, snowboarding is one of the main sports to watch as it continues to creep up the ranking as a preferred sport to learn (higher among females than males, which may increase even more thanks to the outstanding performance by Jiayu Liu who finished 4th.)
I could go into an entire book on why women love this sport. (Actually, I already did.) But from a quantitative perspective, and for the purpose of this story, if ever there was a sport to capture the hearts of young women (whether they ride or not), snowboarding continues to be a potent sponsorship opportunity.
What’s still missing? Ethnic diversity. But it’s getting better. Based on our data, it’s pretty clear where the opportunities lie if snowboarding can attract more young people from specific demographics.
Meanwhile, Torah Bright’s gold medal 2nd run was an inspiration for everyone, not just Australia, even though it was the first snowboarding medal for the country. While Kelly Clark captured the silver instead of the gold, and Hannah Teter the bronze, it’s apparent that the level of snowboarding overall will have far-reaching effects. For the USA, a sport we own, this is very good news.
Photo by Alex Livesey–Getty Images. Silver medalist Kelly Clark (a former gold medalist in the halfpipe in Salt Lake City in 2002) gives Torah Bright, gold medalist, a hug at the end of the competition.