20 top moments since Olympic snowboarding's debut 20 years ago
In February 1998, snowboarding became a part of the Winter Olympics for the first time. That inaugural year in Nagano only featured two disciplines — halfpipe and giant slalom — but it set the stage for a major shift within the Olympics.
Twenty years later, snowboarding has become one of the must-see events of the Winter Games and has expanded to five disciplines. (In PyeongChang, the freestyle discipline of big air will replace the Alpine discipline of parallel slalom as the fifth event on the Olympic program.)
From the heartwarming to the heartbreaking, Olympic snowboarding has produced a number of indelible memories since it debuted 20 years ago. We've compiled 20 of the top moments so far into one list below.
The events here are listed in chronological order.
1. Up in smoke
Date: Feb. 8, 1998 (Nagano Olympics)
The first-ever Olympic snowboarding gold medal went to Canada's Ross Rebagliati in men's giant slalom. But three days later, it was revealed that he tested positive for marijuana and would be stripped of his title.
Rebagliati defended himself by claiming that he must have unknowingly inhaled second-smoke during a going-away party before the Olympics. Fortunately for him, the Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled in his favor and allowed him to keep his gold medal because, as it turned out, marijuana wasn't actually on the IOC's list of banned substances at that point.
Fair or not, Rebagliati was inextricably linked to marijuana from that point forward. Eventually he embraced it by opening up his own dispensary, under the name "Ross' Gold," in Canada.
2. Start of a dynasty
Date: Feb. 10, 2002 (Salt Lake City Olympics)
This was where it all began for Kelly Clark, who was just 18 years old, and the U.S. women's halfpipe team. Clark was the youngest competitor in the field and rode away with the gold medal. Since then, Clark has won two more medals to become the most decorated Olympic snowboarder, and the U.S. has consistently been the most dominant nation in women's halfpipe.
"I remember the first words that I said to my dad in the stands after I won in Salt Lake City," Clark said. "It's so funny looking back. The first thing I said to my dad was, 'Does this mean I don't have to go to college? Like, did I do it? Am I successful?'"
With the win, Clark also became the first American to win a gold medal at the 2002 Olympics, which were taking place on home soil. It wasn't until the next day that it really sunk in what she had done.
"I remember I had this moment where I was walking in Park City," she said. "They had a row of newspapers the next morning, and I was on the cover of every single newspaper in America. And I was like 'Oh my, what have I done?' That was a moment for me that I'll always remember, just like, 'Okay, this is a big deal.'"
3. Ross leads a Powerful sweep
Date: Feb. 11, 2002 (Salt Lake City Olympics)
Ross Powers, Danny Kass and J.J. Thomas took the top three spots in men's halfpipe. It was just the second time that the U.S. had ever swept the podium at the Winter Olympics, and the first time since 1956.
It was the second Olympic medal for Powers, who had previously won bronze in 1998. For Kass, it was the first of two silver medals — he finished second again at the next Olympics in 2006.
And as for Thomas, he is now coaching the rider who beat Powers in 2006 — Shaun White.
4. Klug's comeback
Date: Feb. 15, 2002 (Salt Lake City Olympics)
Two years after getting a liver transplant, U.S. racer Chris Klug earned bronze in men's parallel giant slalom.
The next day, Klug got the opportunity to meet the family of the 13-year-old boy that he had received his liver from. The boy had died in a gunshot accident.
"It was very powerful," Klug told the Deseret News in 2017. "It was an awesome experience, the whole two weeks. It wasn’t just winning my medal, it was really a celebration of life and being able to share that."
Klug now has his own foundation that advocates for organ and tissue donation.
5. A star is born
Date: Feb. 12, 2006 (Torino Olympics)
Shaun White made his Olympic debut and won gold in men's halfpipe. The 19-year-old with the long red hair quickly became one of the Olympics' biggest stars.
White was in disbelief when he woke up the following morning. "I remember looking over, and the medal was on my nightstand, right next to the bed," he said. "I was just like, 'Oh my God, this really happened.'"
Soon, people all over the country were recognizing him.
"I remember trying to take a flight out of, like, JFK or something," White recalled. "I'm in a hurry, and I run up to the gate, and I asked the woman for my ticket, or I was checking my bags, and I just heard someone yell 'Shaun!' And this guy just starts clapping. Literally everyone turns. It's super loud. I look back, and the entire gate check-in area was just applauding, like 'You did it!' … I just threw up my hands, like 'Yeah, I did do it!'"
6. Hannah's gold
Date: Feb. 13, 2006 (Torino Olympics)
Another 19-year-old American won an Olympic halfpipe contest in Torino. One day after Shaun White's victory, it was Hannah Teter taking gold on the women's side. All four of Team USA's riders finished in the top six, with three of them inside the top four and Gretchen Bleiler winning a silver medal.
After the win, Teter put her newfound celebrity status to good use. She started her first charity, Hannah's Gold, which sold maple syrup to benefit an impoverished village in Kenya.
Teter continued to be a strong force at the Winter Games — she finished second in 2010 and fourth in 2014 — but missed the Olympic team this year.
7. Racing for glory
Date: Feb. 16, 2006 (Torino Olympics)
Boardercross debuted on the Olympic program with U.S. racer Seth Wescott claiming the first gold medal on the men's side.
"That was really cool, because Seth was up against a hard-booter who was using an Alpine snowboard setup," Hagen Kearney, a member of the 2018 U.S. Olympic snowboard cross team, recalled. "I think that was really good for the sport, when Seth passed the guy to move from second to first while using soft boots, the traditional snowboard setup. I remember seeing that and thinking that was one of the coolest things I'd ever seen. I look up to Seth still to this day for that."
8. A method, then madness
Date: Feb. 17, 2006 (Torino Olympics)
Lindsey Jacobellis dominated the inaugural women's boardercross event and was on her way to a gold medal — that is, until she attempted a method on one of the final jumps and crashed. In the aftermath, Swiss racer Tanja Frieden passed her to win gold; Jacobellis recovered in time to get silver.
"Snowboarding is fun," Lindsey Jacobellis told reporters afterward. "I was ahead. I wanted to share my enthusiasm with the crowd. I messed up. Oh well, it happens."
With 10 X Games gold medals and five world titles to her credit, Jacobellis is the sport's most successful racer ever, but an Olympic gold medal is still missing from her collection. She returned to the Winter Games in 2010 and 2014 but crashed out of the semifinals both times. Another chance awaits her in PyeongChang.
9. Oh, brother
Date: Feb. 22, 2006 (Torino Olympics)
The final round of the men's parallel giant slalom featured two brothers racing head-to-head for a gold medal. In the end, Philipp Schoch defeated older brother Simon by 0.73 seconds to take the win. The Swiss siblings became just the third set of brothers to finish 1-2 at the Winter Olympics.
Philipp had also won the Olympic title in 2002, so his win in Torino made him the first snowboarder to win two gold medals.
10. A comeback for the ages
Date: Feb. 15, 2010 (Vancouver Olympics)
Defending gold medalist Seth Wescott moved all the way from last to first in the final round of men's snowboard cross to earn his second straight Olympic title. He crossed the finish line just barely ahead of Canadian rider Mike Robertson.
Unfortunately for Wescott, he did not get the opportunity for a three-peat after missing the U.S. Olympic team in 2014.
11. Doubling up
Date: Feb. 17, 2010 (Vancouver Olympics)
Four years after his breakout ride in Torino, Shaun White successfully defended his gold medal in men's halfpipe.
With the win already locked up by the time he dropped in his for his second and final run, all White had to do was take a victory lap. Instead, he upped the ante by landing his double McTwist 1260, a new trick he'd introduced earlier that season.
12. Shining Bright
Date: Feb. 18, 2010 (Vancouver Olympics)
In women's halfpipe, Australian snowboarder Torah Bright outdueled the two previous gold medalists — Hannah Teter and Kelly Clark — to claim gold. Teter ended up with silver, and Clark took bronze.
"I remember sitting on my living room floor, looking up at the TV, watching Torah Bright in the finals," Maddie Mastro, a member of the 2018 U.S. Olympic halfpipe team, recalled. "That was when it just clicked with me — like, I want to do what she's doing. I want to go to the Olympics. And ever since then, I've been trying to get here."
Mastro then took things a step further:
"I wrote her a letter and drew her a picture of herself. And I said, 'Dear Torah Bright, you're amazing. You're the best. Congrats on podiuming.' I don't know whether or not it got sent off by my mom, but I remember writing it and looking at it and telling my mom to send this to Torah Bright. Like, I need Torah to see this."
Bright followed that performance up with a silver medal at the 2014 Olympics, but she was left off the Australian Olympic team for 2018.
13. Surprise on the slopes
Date: Feb. 8, 2014 (Sochi Olympics)
Snowboard slopestyle debuted as an Olympic competition, and in a surprising turn of events, the inaugural gold medal ended up going to Sage Kotsenburg, a charismatic 20-year-old from Park City, Utah. He successfully landed a backside 1620 Japan, a trick he had never even attempted before, on the final jump of his winning run. Canadian favorites Mark McMorris and Max Parrot finished third and fifth, respectively.
Kotsenburg was already beloved by his fellow snowboarders, but he became a media sensation as well in the aftermath of his Olympic win, and he briefly brought the word "spoice" into the American lexicon.
This year's Winter Olympics will go on without Kotsenburg, who won't be there to defend his title. The 24-year-old has since retired from competition and now focuses on filming snowboard video parts instead.
14. Under pressure
Date: Feb. 9, 2014 (Sochi Olympics)
Jamie Anderson entered the Olympics as the heavy favorite in women's slopestyle but soon found herself in an unfamiliar spot — trailing after the first of two runs in the final. Thanks to a successful second run, she won the gold medal to give the U.S. its second slopestyle title in as many days.
"The first Winter Olympics I watched was in 2014. I was never interested in watching the ones before since slopestyle wasn't included," Hailey Langland, a member of the 2018 U.S. Olympic slopestyle and big air team, said. "I was so excited that I stayed up all night to watch the boys and girls compete. I'm pretty sure I cried when I watched Sage and Jamie win."
15. Year of the YOLO
Date: Feb. 11, 2014 (Sochi Olympics)
Shaun White was unable to win a third straight Olympic title after struggling to land the cab double cork 1440 (nicknamed the "YOLO flip") in his run. One of his top rivals, Iouri Podladtchikov of Switzerland, nailed the trick and rode to victory, while a pair of young Japanese snowboarders, Ayumu Hirano and Taku Hiraoka, also found their way onto the podium.
"People ask, 'When are you going to get over [that loss]?'" White said. "You don’t, you don’t really ever get over it. It’s kind of like you have a scar from falling off a bike, it’s just with you forever."
16. No experience needed
Date: Feb. 12, 2014 (Sochi Olympics)
In her Olympic debut, Kaitlyn Farrington became the third American in four Olympics to win gold in women's halfpipe. She finished ahead of the last three champions — Torah Bright (2nd place), Kelly Clark (3rd place) and Hannah Teter (4th place).
Winning the Olympics proved to have its perks.
"You book your flight to the Olympics and it might seem like it's really glamorous, but a lot of the times we're in the back of the bus," Clark said. "But I remember coming back from Sochi, I was with Kaitlyn Farrington. And the pilot of the plane walks on back, down the aisle, and says, 'Miss Clark, Miss Farrington, we'd like to invite you up to first class.'"
Unfortunately Sochi will go down as Farrington's only Olympic appearance, as she was later forced to retire from competition in 2015 due to a degenerative spine condition.
17. The girl with the mustache
Date: Feb. 16, 2014 (Sochi Olympics)
The world was introduced to Eva Samkova, a 20-year-old boardercross racer from the Czech Republic with an amusing quirk: She likes to race with a mustache painted on her face in the colors of the Czech flag.
Samkova was dominant in Sochi. She set the fastest qualifying time, then won each of her heat races en route to the gold medal in women's snowboard cross.
18. Brace-ing for gold
Date: Feb. 18, 2014 (Sochi Olympics)
Pierre Vaultier defied the odds by winning gold in men's snowboard cross despite racing with a torn ACL. He had suffered the injury just two months prior to the Games and was racing with a knee brace during the competition.
Entering this year's Winter Olympics, Vaultier is the two-time reigning World Cup series champion. He's currently leading the 2018 World Cup rankings as well and is pursuing his sixth career title.
19. From Russia with love
Date: Feb. 19, 2014 (Sochi Olympics)
The husband/wife duo of Vic Wild and Alena Zavarzina earned medals in parallel giant slalom on the same day in Sochi. After Zavarzina won her small final in the women's event to take bronze, Wild won his big final in the men's event to claim gold about five minutes later.
Wild was born in the U.S. and grew up in Washington state, but he began competing for Russia after marrying Zavarzina and applying for citizenship in 2011.
20. Make it a double
Date: Feb. 22, 2014 (Sochi Olympics)
Three days after his parallel giant slalom victory, Vic Wild won a gold medal for parallel slalom. That gave him a clean sweep of both Alpine snowboarding disciplines in front of his adopted countrymen in Russia.
With the win, Wild became the fourth snowboarder to earn two gold medals and the first to get both golds in the same year. No snowboarder has more than two gold medals yet.
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