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Chattin' About the Arctic Challenge: Spencer O'Brien Interview

Feb 28, 2011

Author: Sara Tollestrup

This was the first year women’s slopestyle was included in The Oakley Arctic Challenge. It could also very well be the last time Terje Haakonsen’s rider driven contest will be held. Next year the World Championships of Snowboarding will go down in Oslo instead of the TAC, and it’s anybodies’ guess as to whether or not the event will resurface in years to come. Haakonsen has a new focus—the “Snowboarding 180 Olympic Charter,” which he presented at TAC last week. Essentially, the Charter states that snowboarders want a say in the events they compete in rather than having governing bodies like the FIS and IOC make the decisions without their input. We caught up with Canada’s top female slopestyle competitor, Spencer O’Brien, to get the inside scoop on her first experience at Terje’s prestigious event, and to get her take on the Charter.

Spencer O'Brien Arctic Challenge
Spencer O'Brien on course at the finals. Photo:
Eleonora Raggi

How did it feel to be one of the few females to get an invite to The Oakley Arctic Challenge?
“When I heard that there was going to be a full girl’s field at this year’s TAC, I really wanted to go because it’s run and owned by Terje, and I’m still a super fan. But I was a bit worried I wouldn’t be able to get in because it’s based on TTR points. I haven’t done many TTR events this year, so I knew that I would have to get a wildcard. I was really honoured and stoked when I found out I got in, because I’d heard that Terje picked the wildcards himself based on what he saw at events like the Dew Tour and Canadian Open.”

How was Norway?
“It was my first time in Norway so it was pretty exciting. Cruising around Oslo I noticed two things, everyone is beautiful—of course all Scandinavians are—and everyone could speak English. I didn’t get to go shopping, which was disappointing but the riding was good. I didn’t get to see anything other than the t-bar and the slope course, but I was impressed.”

What was the set up like?
“When I first saw the course I thought it was weird looking, but it turns out that it was laid out really well and flowed really good. The first jump was huge. It was probably the biggest jump of the year, and maybe one of the bigger ones I’ve ever hit. There was lots of airtime. The last two jumps were pretty much true step-ups.”

The Oakley Arctic Challenge Podium
The Women's Podium at TAC: Jenny Jones (3rd), Jamie Anderson (1st) and Spencer O'Brien (2nd). Photo: Olav Stubberud

Take us through the runs that landed you in 2nd Place.
“I fell on my first run and it stressed me out, but luckily I was able to put it out of my mind. My second run wasn’t perfect, but I was able to put down a front lip, a 50/50 on the canon, a back 3 melon, a front 5 indy, then boardslide to fakie to switch back 5. I cleaned it up a bunch on my third run, but I was a few points shy of beating Jamie [Anderson]. In the end I was stoked to land two of three runs.”

You had some special fans there to support you, right?
“My boyfriend had been over in Europe so he was there and so were my two friends from Sweden, Marie Louise and Henrik. I lived with ML and Henrik my first season in Whistler and hadn’t seen them since they moved to Trondheim [a city in the north of Norway] a few years ago. They took the train down to Oslo for the event. It was really awesome to have them there.”

Did you watch the men’s slopestyle?
The level of the riding on the men’s side was crazy! Everyone’s riding was so on point, and the riding just keeps getting better and better with each contest. The guys used to be able to get away with runs that were messy as long as the tricks were technical, but now perfection is demanded. If a guy even puts his hand down, his day is over. It’s an insane level of riding.”

Is TAC really different than other events you’ve been to?
“It’s different because it’s run by an athlete. The hotel and food was paid for by the event, which is a huge help to athletes. The rider care was also good on other levels. There was a physiotherapist on hand and the prize money for the men was insane. It’s the same as the X Games prize purse because Terje is a big supporter of the money going to the athlete. But, it’s still a business and a snowboard contest made for TV.”

What is your take on the 180 Charter?
“The Charter was a main focus at our first riders’ meeting since Gerhard Heiberg from the IOC was there to meet Terje and check out the event. I learned that we have a lot more power as snowboarders than we might think. We can take back the Olympic qualifying system from FIS and have it be more in line with the core values of snowboarding. Everyone in snowboarding knows the only reason riders go to World Cups is to get enough FIS points to make it into the Olympics. Otherwise the World Cups would be irrelevant.”

Are you in support of the Charter?
“I totally agree with it. I think it’s great. I would really like to compete in slopestyle at the 2014 Olympics if it gets in, and I think what is proposed in the Charter is a way, way, way better system.”


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