End of the Road: Oakley Snowboarders and Freeskiers Step Into Spotlight in Sochi

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The stage is set. The qualifications and training and travel has passed. The goal now is simple: shine on the brightest stage in all of sport – the Olympics. Our top snowboarders and freeskiers have arrived to Sochi, Russia, prepared to step into the spotlight. A few have been on the Olympic stage before, but for most, this will likely be an experience like none other in their careers.

The presence of action sports in the Olympics has increased dramatically for this XXII Winter Olympics Games. Snowboarding made its first foray into the Olympics in 1998 in Nagano, Japan when Halfpipe made its debut. This year, Snowboard Slopestyle and Freeskiing Halfpipe and Slopestyle join the frey, and all of a sudden the Olympics are a bit more exciting, a bit more hip – a bit more relevant (yes, we’re sure there are heaps of young people influenced both athletically and culturally by Biathlon).

It’s been a hectic past six months for all the athletes who’ve made their respective national teams (and even for those who just missed the cut). A flurry of qualifying events, Dew Tour, X Games, training, traveling, figuring out how to obtain a Russian visa (as hard as it sounds) and trying to hold it together emotionally and physically. It was no easy task. And now they’re here. In Russia, competing at one of the most polarizing events in their lifetimes. And they have to perform. With millions of people watching, and this time, they’re representing more than just themselves.

The Olympics are where Shaun White cemented and heightened his reputation as the premiere talent in Halfpipe and the sport of snowboarding. Who’ll be the next one to escalate his or her profile to that level? Slopestyle star Mark McMorris? Or will Max Parrot continue his roll? With her not-so-long-ago injury, a gold for Kaya Turski would make for quite the comeback story. Young Maggie Voisin could certainly give a fresh face to Slopestyle. Or maybe it will be the tried-and-true star, Shaun White, who’s aiming for an unprecedented third straight Olympic gold in Halfpipe.

While the success stories will garner the media headlines, let’s all take a moment to recognize how far we’ve come. Snowboarding and Freeskiing are in the Olympics. These once fringe, counter-culture sports are IN THE OLYMPICS. Pretty sport-shaking stuff – for better or worse.

As you prepare to let all things Sochi dominate your social feeds and TV sports highlights and web browsing, here’s a quick run-down of a couple of the key athlete you should keep an eye on.

OAKLEY ACTION SPORTS ATHLETES TO WATCH

SHAUN WHITE
Sport: Snowboarding/Superpipe Age: 27 Country: USA
The biggest name in snowboarding and, arguably, one of the biggest names at these Games, Shaun White needs no introduction. Already a two-time Olympic gold medalist, Shaun was initially aiming for two more golds in Sochi, but opted to pull out of Slopestyle in order to focus on Halfpipe. White will be aiming for a US-record third consecutive Olympic gold medal in his specialty event. Rumor has it – and a pre-event documentary, “Russia Calling” – that Shaun has aimed at including a never-before-seen triple cork in the pipe.

MARK MCMORRIS
Sport: Snowboarding/Slopestyle Age: 20 Country: Canada
The Slopestyle spotlight will shine brightest on Mark McMorris, who’s proved to be the most dominant and progressive rider in the discipline over the past three years. After taking an ugly spill at Winter X Games in late January, we’ll be anxious to see how McMorris is riding in Russia. If he’s close to 100-percent, he’s the odds-on favorite to win the first-ever gold in Slopestyle.

STALE SANDBECH
Sport: Snowboarding/Slopestyle Age: 20 Country: Norway
Though just 20, Stale Sandbech is actually an Olympic veteran, having competed in Halfpipe in Vancouver. In Sochi, the Norwegian will be competing in Slopestyle, which has been his focus in the years since the last Olympics. Sandbech is one of the most stylish and polished riders in the field, with a handful of triple corks ready and able to come out and with plenty of contest hardware to prove his poise when the pressure is on.

MAX PARROT
Sport: Snowboarding/Slopestyle Age: 19 Country: Canada
Prior to the Winter X Games two weeks ago, Max Parrot’s name was hardly one on the radar of any snowboard pundits. But after his surprising double gold performance in Aspen, the media attention and pressure has heightened for the young Canadian. He’ll be expected to contend for a podium spot in Sochi and giving his Canadian teammates a run for gold.

JAMIE ANDERSON
Sport: Snowboarding/Slopestyle Age: 23 Country: USA
The queen of slopestyle has had some shuffling in her court as of late. Though she has four X Games gold medals to her name, her best run in Aspen in 2014 wasn’t enough to take the top spot. She’ll need to land the Cab 900 that has evaded her in competition if she wants to lock up gold in Slopestyle’s debut at the Olympics. That said, Jamie Anderson has been the most consistent rider over the past five years, so she remains the one to beat in Russia.

SILJE NORENDAL
Sport: Snowboarding/Slopestyle Age: 21 Country: Norway
Silje Norendal seems to have finally conquered her nerves. The young Norwegian admits that she’s usually a nervous wreck before she drops in to the Slopestyle course, but that variable hasn’t affected her of late, with back-to-back X Games gold medals in Tignes and, most recently, in Aspen. Expect Norendal to be the primary contender for gold, alongside USA’s Jamie Anderson.

KAYA TURSKI
Sport: Freeskiing/Slopestyle Age: 25 Country: Canada
She’s the best slopestyler in the game today, but Kaya Turski shouldn’t be at the Olympics. Her story just doesn’t seem feasible. Just six months ago, the Canadian tore the ACL in her left knee and had surgery to have it repaired. Then she returned, unexpectedly early. She had to in order to qualify for Team Canada. She podiumed at a Grand Prix and two weeks ago she won gold at Winter X Games. The woman is an inspiration and should be one of the top media stories in Sochi.

ANGELI VANLAANEN
Sport: Freeskiing/Halfpipe Age: 28 Country: USA
For three years, Angeli VanLaanen stepped away from competitive skiing. Once among the most dominant and exciting skiers in teh world, she took home big wins and was a master in the backcountry, but her body didn’t feel right. In 2009, she was diagnosed with Lyme Disease. She made a stunning return to competition within the last year and now she’s competing for a medal in Halfpipe in Sochi. Don’t expect any distractions or adversity to hold VanLaanen back.