Women's halfpipe team refocuses in Whistler 

Countdown to the Olympics has snowboarders counting points

The pressure is on. Although the Winter Olympics are still a year away, Canadian snowboarders only have a limited number of opportunities remaining to earn berths in the parallel giant slalom and halfpipe events.

With only 20 open spots in the women’s halfpipe, however – compared to 35 spots in the other snowboard disciplines – it’s going to be tight for our female pipe riders.

"There’s an element of worry," says national team halfpipe coach Dennis Bannock. "They’re not frightened by it, they know what needs to be done. They’re going to be fine and right now they’re giving it their all. But it’s still a lot harder on them then it needs to be. Of course they’re thinking about it."

Natasza Zurek and Maëlle Ricker of Vancouver are currently ranked 13 th and 14 th in the world. Whistler’s Lori Glazier is further down the list at 33, but with a sixth place finish in the world championships she’s poised to move up the ranks. Josiane Bruneau is 43 rd , Dominque Vallee is 47 th , Kim Dunn is 48 th , Manon Roy is 52 nd , Anne Boulanger is 56 th and Mercedes Nicoll is 58 th .

"We’re doing okay, but we really have to keep on getting points," Bannock says. "Do a little better in the competitions and make the most of the events ahead. But I think we’re looking good."

The Canadian Snowboard Federation and team coaches pulled the the women out of the halfpipe competition at Berchtesgaden , Germany, last week after a discouraging experience the week before at the world championships at Madonna di Campiglio, Italy.

According to Bannock, neither the halfpipe nor the snowboard cross course were built until the night before the events, which cut down on training time for the athletes.

"The organizing committee took it upon themselves to put the halfpipe in a spot they call the arena, right where the opening ceremonies took place. It didn’t happen until after the ceremony, so everyone was cold. It seems they were more worried about the history of the hill than the needs of the athletes," says Bannock.

There was another halfpipe further up the hill, but it wasn’t groomed or up to World Cup standards. With no time to practice once the course was built, both Ricker and Zurek – veterans who competed in the last Olympics – fell on their first runs.

The same lack of preparation time applied to the snowboard cross course, and Ricker pulled out of the finals because she felt it would be dangerous to continue – she sustained knee injuries the past two seasons as a result of flat landings.

Rather than take the team to Germany, Bannock elected to bring the athletes back to Whistler for a training camp and sessions with sports psychologist Tom Hutchinson.

"We brought in a specialist who’s worked with a lot of different athletes, working on head space," says Bannock. "He’s an ex-freestyle skier, with lots of experience in these kinds of pressure situations. He’s done his thing with everybody from football players to ballerinas."

After sessions with Hutchinson, Bannock says the the attitude and riding of the athletes improved by 100 per cent.

"He goes out to dinner with them, sees what’s on their minds. You could visibly see it having an effect."

Bannock says he also used the opportunity to work on new tricks and get the athletes’ confidence levels up. He feels the team is better prepared mentally and physically heading to the next two World Cup events in Japan.

CSF president Adam Faithfull says the team is doing its best within the World Cup framework, but he would like to see some changes in the future.

"It’s coming up to the Olympics so there are hundreds of athletes coming to these events, and from a judge’s perspective that’s a lot of work," says Faithfull.

"But most athletes would like to see a second qualification run added, and take the best of the two. With the current system if you fall just once, even after you came all that way, it’s over. With a second run they can put together a safe run and a run that would put them in the finals."

Under the current Olympic guidelines, Canada can bring a maximum of 14 snowboarders to Utah, and enter a maximum of four athletes in any one event.

Each athlete has to make two top-16 finishes by Jan. 11, 2002, to earn a berth for their country. If too many athletes earn berths, the spaces will ultimately be decided by FIS rankings.

Only four World Cup events remain this season; Sapporo-Makomanai and Asahikawa, Japan; Park City, Utah; and Ruka, Finland. There will be a few opportunities to improve rankings south of the Equator, and a handful of events next season before the Jan. 11 deadline.

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