Women Olympians Getting Hurt on Sochi Slopes

PHOTO: Sarka Pancochova of Czech Republic smiles after her womens snowboard slopestyle finals at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, Feb. 9, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. Inset, Pancochovas cracked helmet, held by Jenny Jones of Great Britain, on the same day. PlayCameron Spencer/Getty Images
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The day after Olympian Sakra Pancochova cracked her helmet nearly in half after a fall in slopestyle snowboard competition she tweeted out a picture of herself on the slopes, this time upright and smiling.

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Pancochova’s injury and her quick return to the slopes have shown again that women are willing to push themselves on the same courses as men. At the Olympic freestyle events, such as half-pipe and slopestyle, men and women compete on the exact same course, unlike downhill skiing or ski jump where women have a shorter course or have a smaller jump.

However, Pancochova's injury made her the latest casualty among women at the Sochi Olympics. Since the start of the Winter Games, 16 women in the freestyle sports have been injured in either training or competition and unable to finish, according to the New York Times. In contrast, six male competitors have been similarly injured.

The discrepancy in the injuries for men and women has again led to a debate over men and women competing on the same course during freestyle events.

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But in spite of the risks some athletes say they don’t want the courses to be segregated by gender like so many other sports.

“Girls can’t hit from the same golf tee, or they have to play shorter tennis matches. It’s always been this attitude that girls are weaker and they need something easier. With action sports, it’s such a new breed of sport, it seems like those limitations aren’t put on women from the get-go,” Canadian snowboarder Spencer O’Brien told the Toronto Star.

O’Brien came in 12th in the women’s snowboard slope style event at Sochi.

Olympic gold medal-winner Jamie Andersen told the Denver Post in an interview last year she didn’t want women to be relegated to a different course from the men in spite of difficult courses.

“I have mixed feelings about it. I think it's pretty cool that we get to ride with the guys and that these jumps are doable for us," Anderson told the Post last year.

"I think it would be a step back," said Anderson, who won the first snowboard slopestyle event at the Olympics. "I think that it shows the best, solid riders when they are able to work out, stay strong, eat healthy and be able to ride a really challenging course like this. I think today showed there's a really high level of women's riding."

Athletic trainers and coaches also say that by having men's and women's teams share the course, they can share information among teammates.

John Cole, the Human Performance Director at Ski and Snowboard Club Vail, has worked with 11 athletes currently at the Olympic games including Kaitlyn Farrington, who won gold in the women’s half-pipe snowboard event. Cole said that the Canadian team usually inspects freestyle runs together before the competition.

“They do those training runs as a team, [and] often inspect the course as a team. Not just the men’s team and there’s a unique and specialized exchange of ideas,” said Cole.

Cole said in 2010 he worked with an Olympic Canadian skier, who placed out of the medals. However, the skier was able to tell his skier girlfriend about the state of the course before her run the next day. She went on to win gold, according to Cole.

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Cole said it’s important for event organizers to create challenging but safe courses. However he said with the X-Games and other competitions fighting for airtime and viewers, he thinks there’s little chance that these courses will become slower or safer.

“We’ve taken that step to make the jumps bigger and make the course faster. It’s hard to put the genie back in the bottle,” said Cole.

Cole said he believes that the training and properly built courses are the most important elements in keeping athletes safe.

When Pancochova later spoke to reporters about her scary fall, she said women should not feel pressure to only use the big jumps. The slopestyle course had both bigger and small jumps that both male and female competitors can use.

“For women the big jumps are a little too big,” Pancochova of the Czech Republic told Canada.com about of the Olympic course. However, it’s unclear if Pancochova wanted a different course for women or just more options.

“For women to do their best, then a little smaller jumps are better,” Pancochova told Canada.com. “It’s not that I’m scared. I’ve been hitting f-----g big jumps at X Games for years. It’s a little bit dangerous still. You think they should have figured it out by now and they should have a course that is perfect.”