047: Spencer O’Brien/A Snowboarder At The Olympics

Spencer on home turf in Whistler

“I worry it’ll happen again. In fact I have no doubt it’ll happen again. Looking back I wish I had stood up. I wish I’d said to the girls ‘Do we really want to do this?’”

Imagine training your whole life for the biggest event of your life, only to find that on that day the event you’d expected would show the best of your sport is about to become a very public fiasco. Worse, conditions are so bad that for most competitors the day turns into a straight battle for survival – with the entire thing played out front of a global audience.

Sunshine Valley

It sounds dramatic, but that’s essentially what happen to snowboarder Spencer O’Brien and the rest of the women’s snowboarding field during the Slopestyle event at the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang. As has been well documented, the weather was so bad that none of the competitors wanted to ride – but the contest went ahead anyway. The result was a travesty of a slopestyle contest that let the competitors and snowboarding in general down.

“My heart is at events such as US Open and Dew Tour”. Spencer at the US Open.

Why is this important? Its no secret that action sports have a thorny relationship with the Olympics, and the 2018 women’s slopestyle seemed to confirm concerns that have been voiced for decades. This is a story about what happens when action sports culture gets subsumed by the mainstream, and how it affects our unique culture in the process.

Spencer in her element, Stubai

The fallout rumbled on for weeks, and Spencer herself was so incensed that she wrote an open letter offering a unique competitor’s perspective. As somebody who has been at the forefront of women’s snowboarding for a decade, Spencer is somebody able to offer a unique perspective on the whole messy issue.

“For sure we’re competitive and everyone wants to win, but everyone is genuinely stoked for each other”. Spencer with Anna Gasser in Saas Fee.

The result is a completely frank conversation with one of the biggest presences in women’s snowboarding that covers the Olympics, Spencer’s own take on the farrago, what it means for snowboarding and her own career, and also doesn’t shy away from the tough questions that come with this perennial Olympic snowboarding debate.

Honest, thoughtful and with the same graceful, progressive approach she has brought to her entire career, the result is one of my most honest and revealing episodes yet. Don’t miss it.

If you only have five minutes…

Listen to this section - Spencer on whether boycotting was ever an option.

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