Riding on: After tumult, Reiter still chasing Olympic dreams
Steamboat Springs — A big part of winning is feeling good, Steamboat Springs Alpine snowboarder Justin Reiter said, and Friday afternoon, Reiter may have looked good and mostly sounded good, but he still didn’t quite feel good.
A nasty cold had knocked him off his feet for nearly the entirety of the first two weeks of 2017. He didn’t leave his home for six days, and Friday, a few days after he was finally back up on his feet, he still wasn’t entirely “right.”
He was too weak to fly to Europe for the first of January’s block of World Cups, plus a debilitating cough still springs up every time his heart rate elevates while trying to work out. That added up to enough to keep him from racing this weekend when the Race to the Cup Alpine snowboarding event comes to Steamboat Springs for races Saturday and Sunday.
“Rather than race at home, which I always love to do, I’m going to stand on the sidelines, cheer for my friends and help out my teammates,” he said.
For Reiter “feeling good” goes a bit deeper, however, and after a 2015-2016 season in which he usually felt rather miserable, he’s eager to, if nothing else, feel great as he strives to recapture his snowboarding mojo.
“An athlete, when they’re feeling their best, is when they’re in love with their sport,” he said. “Last year, I had a loss of faith in the system, a loss of faith in my riding.
“Now, I’m really looking forward to getting back to the roots of why I ride, and I’m looking forward to having fun with it.”
There was plenty last season to have Reiter down, starting with an unsuccessful lawsuit he brought against the International Olympic Committee in summer 2015. Looking ahead to the next Olympics, the organization dropped one of the two events Reiter competed in at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia — parallel slalom.
Parallel giant slalom remains on the schedule for the 2018 Winter Olympics, set for PyeongChang, South Korea. PGS is a faster event with fewer gates and wider turns. Athletes race head-to-head in a bracket format to determine the winner.
Parallel slalom, with more gates and more turns, will be out, despite Reiter’s efforts. He brought a lawsuit against the IOC in Switzerland and contested it through last winter, before finally relenting.
That loss, plus everything that came with it, took the fun out of snowboarding.
“I wasn’t able to perform in the courtroom, and it translated onto the snow,” he said. “There was a lot of intrusion from other athletes who’d ask me, with the best of intentions, on race day how the case was going. It took a lot of focus away. It took a lot of energy to fly back and forth to Switzerland to contest the case.
Reiter had been coming off perhaps the best season of his career. He had finished third in the season-ending World Cup parallel slalom standings, and he’d won a race on the circuit, the first of his career.
He followed that up with decidedly middling results. His best finish was 15th, and his average was 23rd.
“The Olympic spirit is defined by struggle,” Reiter said, “and it’s definitely been a struggle.”
So far, this season has only reaffirmed Reiter’s commitment to getting back to the roots of the sport.
It’s also reaffirmed that struggle.
He joined with a trio Steamboat-trained riders, American men Michael Trapp and Robby Burns and Czech Republic woman Ester Ledeca, and the foursome formed a new team. Sponsored by SG Snowboards and Red Bull, they hired an Italian coach and spent much of the summer traveling the world to train on snow.
“I’ve never done that,” Reiter said of the intense, on-snow, off-season training.
It still hasn’t been easy for him. He was 45th and 24th in the two World Cup events he’s participated in this yea. Then, nearing the end of the circuit’s holiday break, he came down sick.
If nothing else, that gave him plenty of time to think.
“In a sense, it’s a blessing,” he said. “It’s a reminder of how fun my life is, how lucky I am to get to do what I get to do and to usually be healthy enough to do it.”
He’s on the mend and hopes to be back on the snow — racing, rather than watching — soon, targeting the next block of World Cup events.
The Olympics, a defining and driving force for Reiter before his 2014 appearance, loom again, not only for him, but for his teammates, as well. The United States has only sent one Alpine snowboarder to the last several Olympics, and there are three men right there alone who’d love to make the cut.
That’s only so important for Reiter, however.
“There are two things in my career I’d love to have. That’s a (World Cup) globe and a medal from the Olympics, but if I walk away having never gotten those, those are two of the hardest things in the world to get, and it’s OK,” he said. “I’ve finished third in the world, won a World Cup, gone to the Olympics. Very few people have done that, so, for the next 18 months, up until the Olympics, the goal is just to ride, to be with my friends and to support them as they support me, and to learn.”
The Race to the Cup kicks off at 9 a.m. Saturday with the first parallel giant slalom qualifying runs. The finals are scheduled to begin at noon, and the schedule repeats with parallel slalom Sunday.
Reiter won’t be racing, but he’ll definitely be there supporting.
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