Reuters - Thu, 11 Feb 16:54:00 2010
With snowboarders approaching the upper limits of what is possible on the Olympic halfpipe, the stage is set for a risky battle for gold at the Vancouver Winter Games.
"We are now starting to push the envelope of what our athletes are capable of," said Snowboard Canada's chief executive officer Tom McIllfaterick. "This is an evolution every other sport has gone through before.
"At some point the physiological limit of the human body combines with gravity, meaning you can't do that much more.
"When was the last time there was a significantly new trick added in diving? There is only so much you can do in that brief amount of time.
"I don't think we are at the limit yet but that we are starting to get very close to it."
Too close for some in the tight-knit snowboarding community following a series of spectacular crashes that have marred the build-up to the Vancouver Games and ended medal hopes.
Kevin Pearce, a top American medal prospect, will watch the Olympics from a hospital after suffering a serious head injury attempting to land a double cork that left him fighting for his life.
A double cork, described as a twisting double back flip with three spins, is considered the must-have trick in the halfpiper's repertoire if he wants a chance of landing on the top of the Olympic podium.
But the trick comes with considerable risk.
"How do you get your athletes to do double corks? You start a year ago, you don't start this week," said Christian Hrab, high performance director for Snowboard Canada, down-playing the risk. "Danger is calculated.
"The danger is if you are unfit, if you don't have the right equipment, if you don't have the right support behind you and you are just throwing yourself out there on a Saturday afternoon.
"As you push the envelope you do bigger and bolder and faster tricks. It's like anyone in any sport, coaches have to be smart, the coaches have to be systematic in their skills breakdown."
The man pushing the envelope and competitors to keep pace is American snowboarding great Shaun White, who is promising to defend the Olympic gold medal he won at the Turin Winter Games with even more dazzling, gravity-defying tricks.
At a recent competition, White previewed his latest creation, a "Double McTwist 1260," double backward flip with three and a half revolutions into a blind landing that earned him 49.5 points from a possible 50 from judges.
While White (pictured) has been able to develop and refine a new arsenal of death-defying stunts on a private superpipe in the Colorado back country accessible only by helicopter, his rivals have been left to keep pace in less ideal facilities.
"I find this wonderful, the double corks," said Hrab. "With double corks there is higher amplitude, there is cleaner style.
"This is the art of snowboarding."
Follow the Winter Olympics 24/7 on British Eurosport (Sky 410 / Virgin 521) and Eurosport HD (Sky 412) British Eurosport channels are streamed online via the Eurosport Player.