Chilean skier Stephanie Joffroy was stretchered off after a skicross crash Friday.There have been remarkable numbers of injuries in Sochi, particularly in some of the extreme sports such as freestyle skiing and snowboarding, and it's notable that those injuries seem to be disproportionately affecting female competitors. One explanation that has been proposed for that is that unlike in many Olympic sports such as alpine skiing and luge where women either compete on different courses or start further down, both men and women use the same courses in extreme events such as slopestyle, halfpipe, ski cross and snowboardcross. As John Branch of The New York Times wrote earlier this week, that's a substantial difference from the typical Olympic approach:
Most of the accidents have occurred at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, the site of the snowboarding and freestyle skiing events like halfpipe, slopestyle and moguls.
And most of the injuries have been sustained by women.
Through Monday night, a review of the events at the Extreme Park counted at least 22 accidents that forced athletes out of the competition or, if on their final run, required medical attention. Of those, 16 involved women. The proportion of injuries to women is greater than it appears given that the men’s fields are generally larger. ...
Unlike some of the time-honored sports of risk, including Alpine skiing, luge and ski jumping, there are few concessions made for women. For both sexes, the walls of the halfpipe are 22 feet tall. The slopestyle course has the same tricky rails and the same huge jumps. The course for ski cross and snowboard cross, a six-person race to the finish over jumps and around icy banked curves, is the same for men and women. The jumps for aerials are the same height. The bumps in moguls play no gender favorites.
“Most of the courses are built for the big show, for the men,” said Kim Lamarre of Canada, the bronze medalist in slopestyle skiing, where the competition was delayed a few times by spectacular falls. “I think they could do more to make it safer for women.”
Branch goes on to discuss how equal courses aren't the standard in other Olympic sports. Women compete on easier alpine skiing courses, start lower in luge and only compete on the smaller hill in ski jumping, making the identical courses in the extreme sports stand out more. It's certainly not a consensus that the Olympics should change that, though.
Perhaps part of the problem is that while the top female competitors can handle the most difficult courses, the typically-narrower fields of top contenders on the women's side may mean some qualifiers aren't able to race safely on tough courses. That's something that came up in the wake of Komissarova's crash, with Canadian skier Brady Leman saying "[The course is] designed for the best athletes in the world. Skicross is a young sport, and there's quite an ability spread still, especially on the ladies' side still." A possible solution could be tightening the qualifying standards and reducing the fields of competitors rather than designing an easier course for women, as Branch adds that having equal courses seems to work in the narrower fields of the X Games, which often only have 10 or so top competitors in an event.Read More »from Is having equal courses for women in extreme sports progressive, or dangerous?