words: T. Bird
Every four years, the Winter Olympics shine a blindingly bright spotlight on our sport and while the athletes of the Sochi Games have been at the front of the stage, there are other others who are equally important in introducing snowboarding to a mass audience, and it’s arguable that in Sochi, none are more important than Todd Richards. From his years as a professional snowboarder, Todd has time and again showcased an ability to be well-spoken, thorough, and insightful, be it at the top of an Olympic pipe or in front of the lens in bottomless pow, and his actions have time and again reinforced his ideologies and ultimately, added greatly to his legacy in snowboarding history. Throughout the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Todd has emerged as snowboarding’s most balanced and objective voice, calling all the snowboard events as the NBC snowboarding analyst on television and calling it like he sees it behind-the-scenes. By utilizing the internet as an up-to-the-minute behind-the-Iron-Curtain outlet, Todd has not only informed the layman as to what’s going on in Russia, he’s invoked dialogue within the core’s conversation, and while the mainstream media outlets update their sites after every event, many times, they’re simply regurgitating what Todd has already said. I had the chance to talk with him via FaceTime in order to pick his brain and give our audience the real scoop from Sochi, so sit down and listen to what Todd Richards has to say, because I can assure you that it’s important.
First off, there was so much talk before the Games about safety. What were your thoughts before you got on the plane to go to Sochi.
I bought into the media pretty hard. I came over here thinking that it was gonna be a total shitshow. I brought a ton of food with me, I brought a pillow, a comforter, a boatload of Immodium AD, I actually bought a water purifier from REI. I went nuts, like complete survival, ready for anything. Then, I arrived here and it was so chill. Like, nothing. I’m staying in pretty much the most banger hotel that I’ve stayed at in a couple years. It’s been great, besides the kind of rough work hours we have to do sometimes because of the time delay, it’s been like a vacation. It’s been great.
What is your exact title for NBC over there?
I am the snowboarding analyst for everything from halfpipe, slopestyle, snowboardcross, and giant slalom.
How do you feel that snowboarding was portrayed in the Sochi Olympics?
I think that a lot of it came from, in the beginning, at least from the mainstream media standpoint, was that the courses were too dangerous, the pipe was terrible, and then it was all about Shaun not doing slopestyle. But then slopestyle went down, everyone was super hyped on the course, and regardless of what anyone thinks about how the contest was judged, we have one of the best people ever for representing snowboarding in the most true fashion to the mainstream media. He’s doing an amazing job of pulling for us. I mean, Sage is one of the nicest kids ever. He can speak when he needs to but he’s still absolutely true to who he is and he’s true to the sport, so we had that and that was the first medal of the Games so Sage got a ton of play from that and then it was on to Jamie when Jamie won for the girls, and then it was all about the pipe. There was so much drama about the pipe and everyone was saying it was bad, and Danny Davis being critical of it. There’s just been a lot of hype, and a lot of that hype has been along the lines of snowboarders taking the sport back and actually being true to snowboarding than just talking about it. I think the biggest hype we’ve had out of this–of course we got a bunch of gold medals for the US–but more importantly, it’s time to take snowboarding back. And it’s not the Shaun White show anymore and these Olympics showed that there are more people in snowboarding that can make a mark than Shaun White.
What I’m still grappling with is whether or not I think it’s cool to see the mainstream media outlets saying we need to take snowboarding back. I don’t know how I feel about it.
Well, those guys are just regurgitating what we’re saying because it’s a story, because it’s a headline, because it’s what we’re talking about. That’s the reason that those guys are even talking about that. People here are being very vocal about how FIS has handled what we’ve been doing in slopestyle, in the pipe, not postponing the pipe for one night, that kind of stuff. These are the calls that we should be making, they shouldn’t be made by some sixty-five year old man. That’s not us.
The fact that Danny Davis–at a dinner we were at–stepped up to the guy and basically told him what he thought of the fact that they had to ride the halfpipe–after they had killed themselves to get there–in less than ideal conditions, when they could’ve just waited a night, and the guy told him, “That’s all in the past,” and Danny told him, “Exactly like your control of snowboarding,” and walked away. That was one of the most monumental things I’ve ever seen happen in snowboarding. Danny is down. He’s down for the people. Danny’s been getting exploded in the press, too, about being–in not so many kind words–a bitch, and it’s not fair, because Danny is talking for all of us. It’s not just him. He’s not just complaining about his scenario. It’s all of us, and that’s been the common thread throughout all of the events. It’s time to get snowboarding out of skiers’ hands. It’s got nothing to do with skiing or freeskiers or anything like that. It has everything to do with the fact that the FIS is a bunch of old men that grabbed on to snowboarding to make money and now it’s making money and they’re still in control when they shouldn’t be.
Right. This isn’t a vendetta against skiing. If we were governed by the Cycling Federation we’d be saying fuck the Cycling Federation.
Well, yeah. Look, you’re not governing your own body. Myself, Pat Parnell, Danny Davis, Greg Bretz were eating that night and that guy, the head of snowboarding for FIS walked into the restaurant, and he looked like he had light dementia. He was so spaced out. Pat kinda played the game where he pretended to know the guy, he was like, “Oh hey, how you doin’? I haven’t seen you in a while,” just to initiate a conversation, and the guy seriously looked like he was on another planet. He didn’t even know what was going on there, at a dinner, never mind knowing what is best for our sport.
With the pipe, do you think the blame can be associated to the shaper that FIS contracted, the snow conditions, maybe both?
It’s a combination of both. It depends on who you talk to. I’m really good homeys with all the guys at SPT and all those guys that I talked to were like, “Look, we were basically outbid by a cheaper bid.” Someone came in and was like, “Oh, you guys want this much, we can do it for this much,” and it’s all incestuous here. Everyone is in everyone else’s pockets. That guy was in FIS’s pocket, blah blah, but he was still trying to do the best that he could under the circumstances. I don’t think that guy wanted to deliver an inferior product because he was responsible for the machine that was cutting it originally and this was his big unveiling for his machine. If he could put on a good show here and people liked it, he’d make money off of it, but it didn’t work and he went back to using the Zaugg. But also, the temperatures were too high, there wasn’t much that he could do, but they could’ve postponed it by one day. Look at the women. The women were going huge. Kaitlyn Farrington was doing switch backside sevens and there’s no way she would’ve even made it across the flat bottom had the condition been the same as they were the night of the men’s event. We don’t want the Olympics to be a “who sucks least,” and I’m not taking anything away from Ipod because he had an amazing run and he dealt with the condition better than anyone else but you’re at the Olympics and you shouldn’t have to deal with sub-par condition in the pipe. It should be a straight up talent contest because that’s what got these guys here from the US. The pipes in the US are perfect.
Did you talk with Shaun after his fourth place finish?
No. You know, Shaun is Shaun and Shaun does Shaun. He’s not really available for comment unless it’s for TV. I think it was kind of a humbling experience for him, to come here and not win, and honestly, I think it’s good for Shaun and I think it’s good for Shaun’s relationships with everyone else in the sport. You know, I don’t even really wanna comment on that because I don’t have a relationship with him. God, I’ve known the guy for fifteen years and I feel like I know him less now than I did when he was a seven year old kid. So, I don’t know Shaun well. I can’t really comment to that at all.
In the slope event, Sage had by far my favorite run of the day. It was my personal favorite to watch and I couldn’t be more happy to see him win. Has there been any talk behind-the-scenes about the shift in the judges’ ideology? For example, Max Parrot got a 97-something in qualifiers and was then given a score nearly ten points lower in the finals when he did almost the same exact run. I know that was a hot button topic for some after the event.
There’s been a lot of talk about the “Flying Meatball,” which is the mute grab triple cork versus something with a little bit more originality, and I think there is something to that. If you’re doing two triples and a double in your run and you’re grabbing in the same spot on all of them, there’s no variety in that. Yeah, you took off backwards but in essence it’s pretty much the same move. It’s arguable that McMorris has better looking double and triple corks than anyone because he does them his own way but if you do a double on the first hit, grab melon. On your next one, grab tail. It just has to be mixed up a little bit. Max Parrot is gnarly, there’s no taking anything away from that. The guy’s got an uncanny air awareness, but I think the judges have gotten sick of seeing the same run. I’m kinda bummed that Ståle didn’t get judged a little bit better because he had the most insane, controlled flat spin run ever, but Sage added a little more weirdness to it and the judges were sick of seeing a cookie cutter run, and Sage thought outside the box and I think that’s really good for the young kids to see that you don’t have to conform to do well and be a hero. Sage is Sage and Sage does Sage and that’s the best thing about him.
Well, with the tricks that Sage was doing with the grabs he was incorporating, you can’t learn that on a trampoline. That’s why I was so hyped to see him win.
And it’s weird. Look, I come from a skateboarding background. Everything I learned in snowboarding was 100% derived from skating. If I didn’t grab my skateboard in that spot, I had no business grabbing my snowboard in that spot. Times have changed a little bit, like with Sage doing Japans and reaching across his board and grab Crail or Nuclear with his other hand or whatever. It’s a legitimate move and some people may call it kooky because he’s doing that but I think it’s frickin’ awesome. If you’ve got that much control in the air to be able to pull something behind you and have long enough arms to reach over and grab with two hands, it’s nuts. It’s ultimate control in the air. Also, the fact that he’s doing toeside spins and grabbing nose on 1080s is awesome. No one does toeside spins anymore. I though that was awesome.
What’s the sketchiest thing you’ve seen over in Sochi?
I think the sketchiest thing here is the fact that there are no ropes to prevent you from dying up here on the mountain, and it’s a really good thing because you’re taking your life into your own hands. It snowed a foot last night here and unfortunately I was taking about people going left and right down a slalom course all day long but I’m gonna go out tomorrow and there’s no one to tell you to not go somewhere. There’s no Ski Patrol, no one to bail your ass out, which I think is great because you have to be smart, but that’s the sketchiest shit. And there’s just weird shit, like, we’re staying at the Marriott and it’s really nice, probably the best setup that anyone has here, but you can tell that these guys came in and they pushed hard to get the accommodations done quickly, and maybe they cut a few corners in the process that we probably won’t see while we’re here but maybe in six months there’ll be shit that’s falling apart [laughs].
But honestly, I haven’t really seen anything that’s been dicey. I mean, the environmental issues, like what they’ve overlooked to get things done, what I see in the river as I’m taking the gondola up, that sucks. I can’t even imagine the amount of heavy metals and mercury and lead and whatever other shit that’s going into the ground but I try not to think about that because it is pretty amazing here. I just concentrate on the mountains where I am. These mountains are out of control. Every gondola, every lift is state-of-the-art, brand new, and perfect, so I would definitely come back and snowboard. For sure.
So all in all, from what you’ve seen, do you think that Sochi was ready to host the Olympics?
I think that Sochi did the best they could do. It’s a massive undertaking and what is it, like $55 billion was spent here or something?
Who knows if it went into the actual venues or the hotels or the roads. I’m sure a lot of that went into peoples’ pockets and it shouldn’t have but they did an amazing job, and when you remove the government from all this and all the shitty politics, there are a lot of young people that I’ve hung out with on the hill and here in the bar, and they’re just so stoked to be here. They’re coming from all over Russia to be here and they are just so happy to share their country with us. I went snowboarding with two Russian guys that I met that are now Facebook friends of mine, like I’m commenting on their Instagram feed all day long, and they’re hilarious, they’re really really funny. We just went and rode and I wasn’t thinking about all the political bullshit because they’re just two kids that wanna come here and snowboard and they’re stoked that the Olympics came to Sochi because their mountain now has state-of-the-art lifts instead of the sketchy shit that was in place here before, so that’s cool. It’s good for snowboarding. It’s good for bringing people here in the future. They pulled it off.
What’s the first thing you’re gonna do when you get back to the States?
Spend time with my family, first and foremost. I’ve been gone for a while, almost a month. But the first thing I’m gonna do is go to Pannikin and have a coffee and I’m gonna go surfing. I’ve snowboarded quite a bit here, been riding with Craig McMorris a bunch and that’s been awesome, but I just need to…probably just go in my house and sit [laughs]. Just sit there. Honestly, it hasn’t been gnarly here at all but any time that I’m away from home for a long period of time, the first thing I do when I go home is jump on the couch and decompress.
Well, I’m stoked for snowboarding as a whole that you’re over there, Todd. You’re an opinionated, educated, and good voice for snowboarding.
I hope so. I hope I’m doing my job. That’s what I wanna be for the sport and, you know, I’ve pretty much always said what I’ve thought about things, for better or for worse, and I’m just glad that I can share who we are with the general public, and now that the general public is willing to embrace us. I mean, Sage is a media darling now [laughs]. I can’t believe I just said that, but yeah, Sage is the biggest kook on the planet and I’m so glad that he’s a hero to a lot of people. That’s a good thing.
Me too man. Thanks for taking the time to do this, Todd.
No worries, man. High five, see you guys soon.