When the Winter Olympics get underway in PyeongChang in 2018, it will officially mark the 20-year anniversary of snowboarding at the winter games. First introduced in Nagano in 1998, the sport of snowboarding has since seen a rise in popularity all across the world. Several big-name riders hope to further cement Olympic snowboarding’s legacy in winter athletics come this February.
The Early Days
Official snowboarding competitions did not exist until the early 1980’s. The National Snowboarding Championships debuted in 1982, while the World Snowboarding Championships were launched the following year. Not long after, snow halfpipes were being built on mountains across the country. With the sport’s popularity hitting a tizzy in the mid-1990’s, snowboarding became one of the first sports introduced at the brand-new X-Games in 1997.
Only two events were originally created for snowboarding at the winter games – giant slalom and halfpipe competitions. And unfortunately for the sport, it’s first international exposure was not without controversy. Canada’s Ross Rebagliati won the first-ever gold medal in men’s giant slalom, but was forced to vacate that award immediately after testing positive for marijuana use. The United States was shut out completely at the 1998 Olympics, something that hasn’t happened since.
In 2002, American snowboarding officially erupted onto the scene. The States owned the sports’ competitions at the games held in Torino. 18-year-old Kelly Clark claimed the country’s first gold medal in women’s halfpipe. The following day, American Ross Powers won gold in the men’s version. But, even more impressive was the fact that the U.S. swept that particular competition thanks to incredible performances by Powers, Danny Kass, and J.J. Thomas.
The Flying Tomato
Every United States snowboarding fan associates the sport with one rider: Shaun White. Nicknamed The Flying Tomato, the teenaged boarder took home gold in the halfpipe competition at his first-ever Olympic appearance. He then officially became the face of winter athletics in the U.S. He followed that win with another gold at the 2010 games in Vancouver. White is not alone as a two-time gold medalist though; fellow American Seth Wescott has two golds to his name as well. White hopes to rebound in PyeongChang after getting shut out at the 2014 Olympics.