SNOWBOARD CROSS: Alex 'Chumpy' Pullin has indicated that the Snowboard Cross event will take on a battle ground atmosphere, with even more emphasis than usual on physical strength and extreme speed that will test the resolve of any faint–hearted rider.
Pullin, a dual World Champion who is likely to start Monday’s competition as the favourite to win gold, can’t wait for the action to begin. The Australian Team is incredibly strong with Pullin joined by current world number two Jarryd Hughes and recent X Games finalist Cam Bolton.
Speaking after a training session just days from the event that has the potential to propel him into Olympic history, Pullin was in awe of the course’s lightning speed, labelling it as having the potential to be “terrifying.”
Asked about whether “drafting”, a technique commonly used by riders to reduce wind resistance, he predicted that the Extreme Park course at Rosa Khutor will be a speed-fest, almost preventing the need to tuck in behind leading athletes.
“It’s so fast, to go any faster behind anyone’s draft will actually be terrifying,” Pullin said.
“You’re sort of at max speed riding by yourself.
“What I felt was by myself, out there alone, I wouldn’t want to go any faster.
“You know, definitely hitting the 70 kilometre an hour mark down there for sure, and the G-forces are big.
“Once you get the real take off there’s some real bodyweight you feel coming on and that’s where it’s technical because of that soft snow.”
Pullin has carved a reputation as the consummate technician and student of the sport in the often rough-and-tumble event, but he believes that technique will not be the primary consideration on Monday.
Instead he foreshadows that physical conditioning, which is something he has placed an enormous focus on throughout his lead up, may be the most important element.
The sight of other athletes looking physically “spent’ at the end of runs left Pullin with a reaction of “that’s good, I like that.”
“For me perfect technique is not really what I’m focussed on,” he said.
“I’m focussed on trying to get solid runs to the ground, and every run I did today was a bit different.
“I was really trying to push the speed and with that comes a bit of an unknown, and I think that strength comes into play there.
“It (the warm weather) sort of zaps the energy out of you a bit, so I’m going to have a couple of really big days of training, then a day off, then a really big day of competition.
“I think that’s where the fitness is going to pay off, not so much for one run, but the whole event and being able to put down basically sprint after sprint, after sprint.
“Short runs, but really high intensity again and again and again.”
The normally close-knit and friendly atmosphere of the field is gradually changing with each day, trending towards an intense competitive rivalry that is bound to produce spectacular racing.
“Normally everyone communicates pretty well, but around Olympic time everyone puts on different uniforms and it sort of becomes a little bit hush, hush,” he said.
“But that’s cool, I’m into that. We’re here to compete. As much I enjoy being relaxed, I am in there to enjoy that real competitive vibe, and yeah, we’ll literally be racing like warriors out there, gladiator stuff.”
Hughes is a fantastic talent. At just 18 he won his first World Cup in Canada last December. He and Bolton, 23, are both making their Olympic debuts and have the potential to win through to the final, or at least have a major say in the athletes who take centre-stage for the big one.
The general consensus is that the course is in good shape and is wide enough for six-man fields who will contest each round of the knock out finals.
Athletes who have the current form to deny Pullin the gold are Italy’s Omar Visintin, Norwegian Stian Sivertzen and Spanish young gun Lucas Eguibar.
However, with the unpredictability of snowboard cross, resulting from shoulder-to-shoulder racing, the medal race is wide open.