A while ago, I did an interview with the Japanese newspaper called The Asahi Shimbun.
They don’t have a big enough population up there. How many ghost towns are there after hosting the Olympics?
The same story would have repeated itself even here in Oslo. It’s good to get new sport arenas and infrastructure in Oslo, but it has to be made for our population. Using the Olympics as an excuse to build these new arenas is stupid. We can afford new sporting arenas for our people without the Games.
BOYCOTT OF NAGANO
Q: You were expected to win at the 1998 Nagano Games, where snowboarding made its debut as an Olympic sport, but you refused to participate. Was that because the International Olympic Committee, which considers snowboarding a discipline of skiing, granted governing rights of the sport to the International Ski Federation (FIS) and not to the International Snowboard Federation (ISF)?
A: You know what the FIS did in the 1990s? They went to all the TV stations around Europe and said, “If you show IFS snowboarding, you are not going to be able to get FIS skiing and ski jumping events.” If a federation doesn’t have TV programs of the events, they won’t have sponsors, and that’s how they killed the ISF.
They have been trying to do the same thing with the Ticket to Ride World Snowboarding Tour. Same thing.
It’s funny, too, because you have people in the FIS board sitting on the IOC board, and they go to the same dinners. It’s like, “Well, you take care of that, and I’ll take care of that.” Same family, really.
It’s going to be interesting because there’s all this politics about who’s going to govern skateboarding if it’s going to be at the Olympics.
For me, it was just that I could not bring myself to go to Nagano, seeing my own federation that built snowboarding getting killed.
Q: The FIS created a snowboarding section in 1996, only two years before the Nagano Olympics. If the ISF, a federation run by snowboarders, was in charge of snowboarding operations, would you have considered attending the Nagano Games?
A: I probably would have gone if the ISF was the host. But I probably would not have gone again because after that series, I found out more about the IOC as a whole package. The IOC does not do sports. They do TV rights, developing and all other business in the background.
I always said that if the IOC is the godfather of sports like they pretend to be, why don’t they play with open cards and why doesn’t the whole world own the IOC?
For example, an Olympic host should not lose billions. They should make money, and the profits should go to spreading sports in countries that maybe can’t afford it. That would be a good thing. Then everybody would own the Olympic rings, not just one group of older men. It’s ridiculous how they’ve been treated like royals with all that money.
Q: Does the current Olympic style of competition between nations suit snowboarding?
A: The people who built me up are my equipment sponsors, Burton and Oakley. My hometown did stuff for me. My local hotel, my local resort, they sponsored me on the first trips.
I have Swiss, Canadian, Japanese and Finnish teammates, and we’re all on the same team and we travel together. I cheer for my mates, the guys I ride with, I hang out with. So we cross boundaries. It’s not like a national fight, which is very “old school.”
But I think the idea of the Olympics is good. It’s sports. It’s active. It makes people be active. And it’s good entertainment. But the problem lies in how it’s run and how it is.
Q: You created the Arctic Challenge snowboarding competition in 1999 in hopes of putting the sport back in athletes’ hands.
A: The Arctic Challenge was started because a lot of us riders were frustrated.
I came to do a halfpipe contest, and the halfpipe would be so small. It was smaller than a skateboard mini-ramp. I know that if I have a good halfpipe, I can fly 3 to 5 meters. It would be spectacular. It would be radical, and it would be like the Formula One of snowboarding.
Out of 10 events, maybe two of those events were OK. But a lot of us riders were like: “OK, we know what we can do, we have the potential. We have to experiment.” So we started out with a pilot project in 1999. We then thought we could make it a lot bigger. We did, and other events followed.
I went to the U.S. Open snowboarding championships last year, and the pipe was great, but the format held back the freedom to ride like freestylers. They all have their tricks list to make that one golden run. That is also a result from the FIS and IOC.
One thing I’m really disappointed about is how the top competition riders don’t stick together and say, “OK, this is how we want our sport to be.” For example, the qualification system for the Olympics is totally unfair. If we all stick together, we can actually shape the sport.
RIDING ON IMPULSE
Q: Do you think two-time Olympic gold medalist Shaun White is thinking about the future of the sport?
A: He made his career out of snowboarding. Snowboarding built him up. The guy has incredible talent for snowboarding and skateboarding. But he doesn’t give anything back to the sport.
He could have done so many things. He even had people telling him that if he said this or took a stand on that, he could take all the credit. But he doesn’t care.
Q: Some say snowboarding as a point-scoring sport is boring.
A: Yes. It is all about how the snowboarding format should be. The thing is, judging sports is really hard, and you’re always going to have mistakes and whatever.
You’re going to have judges from different countries, and a guy who likes a certain style more. But you also have, of course, your own style.
I like watching snowboard competitions. But if you saw the last one last week, the next one isn’t going to be any different. So it gets boring.
That, I think, is a key point in how to keep it interesting, keep it creative and make it more fun for the riders.
A lot of people have a trick list before the season. They say: “I got to learn that trick and that trick. OK, I can do this now. Can I step it up?”
When we had the world championships in Oslo, I wanted to have “hip” entrants, and people freaked out. The coaches were like, “Whoa, that’s not what we train for.” I was like: “Well, it’s snowboarding. You should just ride on impulse. That’s freestyle.”
Can you ride or can’t you ride? It should not be about having a coached rider who is like a robot. Freestyle is the whole foundation of “action” sports, such as snowboarding and surfing.
It is not freestyle anymore. It has become more like you have to do this thing. I think that’s when the sport loses a lot of its value, too.
Action sports build on creativity and freestyles. You can see it’s totally different with people who are coached riders.
Then you have the creative guys who can ride everything, and they just have the passion because they like it. It’s really easy to see the difference.
There are also other ways to compete in snowboarding than the halfpipe and slopestyle. We have freeriding events, banked slalom and boardercross, too. It is a sport with tons of options.
Reporter Yoko Toda contributed to this article.
ABOUT TERJE HAAKONSEN
A native of Telemark county in Norway, Terje Haakonsen has been snowboarding as a professional since he was 15.
Haakonsen won the International Snowboarding Federation’s World Championships in the halfpipe three straight times from 1993. He also won the U.S. Open snowboarding championships three times.
The ISF was disbanded in 2002. The same year, Haakonsen helped establish the Ticket to Ride World Snowboarding Tour, which has brought together many of the world’s top snowboarders in the halfpipe and other events.
He has created a number of aerial maneuvers, such as The Haakon flip. He remains active in freeriding, a style of snowboarding performed on natural terrain.
By MASAKI KONO/ Correspondent