Compared to other Olympic sports, snowboarding has not been around very long. But it is a sport the International Olympic Committee wanted very much to have on the Winter Games schedule because it looks good on television and attracts younger viewers.
Early versions of snowboards were created in the 1960s in the United States. The sport grew because it appealed to the youth who were used to surfing and skateboarding, sports where both feet are on one board.
The first world championship in snowboarding was held in 1983 in Lake Tahoe, California. By 1987 there was a World Cup tour that included venues in both North America and Europe.
An International Snowboarding Federation was established in 1990, run by the snowboarders themselves. The sport was growing rapidly, and Olympic historian and author David Wallechinsky told VOA Sports the I.O.C. was aware of this. "There was a definite move by the International Olympic Committee to add sports and events that would appeal to young people. They started to see that whereas in the Summer Olympics everything was going along fine, that they were having trouble with (television) ratings, particularly with the younger demographic. And so they brought in snowboarding in 1998. The idea is they completely bypassed the normal procedures for adding sports in the Olympics, because they wanted snowboarding in there," he said.
Wallechinsky explains that before curling got into the Winter Olympics in 1998, it had been featured as a demonstration or exhibition sport six times and had followed all the I.O.C. regulations for inclusion. He says snowboarding did not even ask to get into the Winter Games.
"The I.O.C. wanted snowboarding and they wanted it right away. The International Ski Federation was extremely threatened by snowboarding, because they could see even out on slopes at the resorts, the number of people who were participating in skiing was stagnant, whereas the number of people who were participating in snowboarding was skyrocketing. So the ski people felt threatened. And the I.O.C. made a deal with the International Ski Federation. (Their thinking was) We want this in the Olympics, but you can administer it. We will kick out the Snowboarding Federation and instead it will become a branch of the International Ski Federation. And that is how they convinced the ski people to allow it in, and that was how they got around the rules of having all these regional championships and the normal procedures. They merely bypassed that by making it part of the Ski Federation," he said.
Snowboarding entered the Olympics, along with curling, in 1998 at the Nagano Games with two events the half-pipe and the parallel giant slalom. A third event was added for the Turin Olympics called the snowboard cross. It features competitors racing on a special cross-country-like course with various jumps, terrain, and even banked turns.
The first gold medal winner in that event was American Seth Westcott on Thursday. Radoslav Zidek of Slovakia was second and Frenchman Paul-Henri Delerue was third. The womens snowboard cross is set for Friday.
Five of the United States first nine medals won here in Turin have been in snowboarding, and Americans have swept gold in the first three events. U.S. coach Bud Keene says there are so many snowboarders in the country that there are a lot of riders to choose from for the Olympics.
"It's a uniquely American sport. And we've always been good at it and we'll continue to be good at it. America was founded, was settled by pioneers, by people, by individuals who like to do things their way when they wanted to do them, the way that they wanted to do them. And that continues through to today and shows in the snowboarding."
The popularity of the sport has been rapidly spreading into any part of the world that has snow. So unlike the very American sports of softball and baseball, which the I.O.C. here voted out of the Summer Olympics effective in 2012, it appears snowboarding will be on the Winter Olympic calendar for the foreseeable future.