PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (Reuters) - The designer of Pyeongchang’s snowboard cross track says it is one of the safest he has ever created and believes the windy conditions and not the track will have presented the biggest challenge to the riders.
In the men’s final on Thursday, there were a spate of severe injuries on the course, including Sochi silver medallist Nikolay Olyunin, who broke his leg, and Austria’s Markus Schairer, who suffered a fractured vertebrae in the men’s competition on Thursday.
However, in the women’s event on Friday the wind had calmed down and there was a noticeable decrease in the number of collisions and falls.
Czech Vendula Hopjakova was stretchered off, however, with a knee injury during seeding.
Course designer Nick Roma denied the course was dangerous said the main challenge faced by the riders had been the wind.
“It is not a particularly dangerous course. It is one of the safer ones in terms of the overall volume of landing room,” said Roma, the Director of Operations at White Industries, the designers of the past three Olympic snowboard cross and skicross tracks.
“The hardest thing this whole time has been gauging the weather. You are building jumps that are pretty huge, between 18 and 33 metres depending on where they are in the venue, and if you get a tailwind it will push you further or headwind will slow you down.”
“Yesterday it just got fast and things sped up a little bit and that is the name of the game where you can get everything right but nature throws you a curve ball.”
These thoughts were echoed by American boarder Lindsey Jacobellis, who finished fourth in the women’s final.
“In the training days it was extremely difficult because of the wind, which made it extremely dangerous,” said the 32-year-old.
“It is really hard for a course designer to judge that because you don’t know if you are going to get wind.”
“It must be pretty challenging to be a course designer.”
Jacobellis added that the course ran a lot better in the ladies event because of the lack of wind, a statement backed up by the lack of injuries during the women’s finals.
Hopjakova’s was the only major injury sustained on Friday.
Roma and White Industries, who have designed courses across the world, including for the FIS World Championships every Olympics since 2010, are seen as the best in the business and have been working on planning for Pyeongchang’s course for over five years.
The task is made even harder by the fact that the International Ski Federation (FIS) wanted a course that could host both snowboard cross and skicross events.
This meant that the middle of the course needed to feature to separate runs, one for skiing and one for snowboarding.
“This is by far the biggest venue that has been created in terms of snow volume. Sochi was huge but this is even bigger with the two venues. Same finish and same start but the middle is pretty wild with the two tracks,” said Roma.
Roma is a popular man with the athletes and says they are always consulted on track design before and after the event.
The men’s silver medallist Jarryd Hughes praised Roma for his design after the men’s final on Thursday.
“I was always really confident with this course. I was always really happy with Nick building it. He builds amazing courses,” said the Australian.
“I am really lucky, he has been building for me since I was back in Steamboat and he just builds really cool stuff. I was confident coming in with Nick’s building. It suits me to tee.”
Roma has been designing courses in Steamboat Spring, Colorado for athletes such as Hughes since 2009 and said he was always proud whenever an athlete won an event on a course he created.
“He kicked butt,” said Roma of Hughes.
“He is a really good friend and I can’t wait to see him and give him a hug.”
“He has always gone well on the courses I have built for him, so I guess I am an inspiration for him.”
Reporting by Jack Tarrant; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty