CYPRESS MOUNTAIN, B.C. -- Proving yet again that it is, pound for pound, the most entertaining sport at these Games, the snowboardcross venue was transformed yesterday into a Northwestern version of "Wallace and Gromit in the Wrong Trousers."
It couldn't have happened without Nate Holland. In addition to being a podium favorite in Monday's finals, the 31-year-old from Sandpoint, Idaho, also serves as a self-appointed fashion cop at this venue, and in this sport. Appearing slightly bored after his second training run, the ginger known as "Hollandass" lobbed a verbal Molotov cocktail at a handful of reporters.
After paying an unsolicited compliment to the outfits of the surprisingly strong contingent of French riders -- "I like their style: the jockey tops, the baggier pants" -- Holland headed for the chairlift, yelling over his shoulder, "You guys should ask the Canadians why they're wearing such tight pants."
Now that he mentioned it, the host country's riders did seem to be more snug than most of the other competitors. Not skin-tight, as one might see on a downhill ski racer, or rocked by Elvis on the Ed Sullivan Show, but certainly more form fitting than is the norm at a snowboarding venue. In a sport that sometimes seems to value adherence to its "core" principles more than winning (see: Jacobellis, Lindsey), tight pants are going to get you noticed. And not in a favorable way.
It was not by accident that Team Canada's trou are less baggy than those of their rivals. It's all in keeping with Canada's thrust, so to speak, to improve its medal count in these Games.
"If you have any experience in wind tunnels," noted Canadian rider Drew Neilson, "anything that flaps around, catching wind, slows you down. There are certain parts of this course -- one drag section -- where it could be a small advantage."
The tighter the garment, the faster the ride. But the price to be paid for showing up in a speed suit, as Neilson recalled one fellow did in the early days of snowboard cross, can be high. "You'd just probably get gurned till the end of your career," he allowed. (Asked to define "gurn," Neilson said it meant to "rib" or "bug.")
This tension has existed nearly as long as the sport itself. Neilson recalled the devastatingly effective ridicule meted out in the '90s by the legendary Austrian boarder Martin (The Dominator) Freinademetz, a parallel giant slalom rider who loathed the speed suits worn by his competitors. The Dominator actually showed up for a race in a gorilla suit -- and won. The skinsuits, he complained at the time, were "taking away from the snowboarding ideal."
That ideal, some boardercrossers fear, is once again under attack. With few rules in place, they are forced to self self-police each other, with some taking a more active role in enforcement than others.
Of course, as long as Holland was going around channeling the late fashion critic Mr. Blackwell, that was a win for Canada, according to Neilson, who said, "At least at least we got him thinking about something other than racing, right?"
But it wasn't clear, on the eve of the finals, who was in whose head. Neilson admitted that, after a withering look from Holland yesterday, the Canadian had actually changed into a roomier pair.
"I looked at his pants," recalled Holland, "and he looks at me and five minutes later says, 'man, I'm sorry, I'm changing, these are ridiculous.' He knows where the soul of the sport should stay."
It will take today's competition, it seems, to determine who wears the pants in this relationship.