A Backbreaking Olympic Ride with Eric WillettBy Jared Souney • Feb 7th, 2014 • Category: Features, Latest, Random
When Shaun White pulled out of X Games slopestyle, the first thing that came into my mind was, “Aww man, that’s a bummer for whoever was next in line.” There were no alternates sitting by waiting in case someone got hurt. Strange as it may seem to not have a back up, these are prestigious spots.
It’s easy for those of us on the sidelines to take Shaun dropping out and think about how “someone got screwed out of their spot.” I actually think Shaun is a bad-ass. There are so many logistics to the Olympic process that you can’t place blame. But still, it sucks for those who could have been. While on one hand, Shaun’s focus on pipe (where he is the “favorite”) gives the US a solid medal chance, the loss of a slopestyle rider for team USA also could hurt their medal count. So my first thoughts were about who could have been there?
Ryan Stassel ended up with the fourth spot on the slopestyle team and made it to Sochi. But early on, Eric Willett was considered a favorite to be on the team. And were he to not make it onto the four man team, he could have easily been that could-have-been alternate guy, sitting at home, very pissed off. And then he broke his back at the Copper Grand Prix.
With Eric’s hopes dashed Eric Beaucheman, Kyle Mack, and Brandon Davis also would have been next in line. There is a process and there are technicalities. A committee to choose. But regardless, one of those dudes could have been at the Olympics. Now you could even argue should have been. And to a lot of people, that’s a very big deal.
I wanted to find out more about one of the guys who might have been there, and get his take on what’s going on in Sochi. So here’s Eric Willett, a man who literally broke his back on the road to Sochi.
Have you ever thrown one, thus creating “A flying tomato?”
I would love to try and throw the real flying tomato, but I’d probably get tackled by Bud or one of his other 20 security guards.
Is there a part of you that’s relieved not to be in Sochi? Or is it a let down? I mean, there’s some let down I’m sure. But people are tweeting about terrible hotels and bad water. Surely Breck is better than that!
I’d love to be there. I think the riders actually get treated really well. I’ve seen photos and stuff and it looks pretty sweet! But nonetheless, I’m glad my water doesn’t look like piss, and I can sleep in my own comfortable bed, instead of a prison cell mattress.
Let’s be honest those Ralph Lauren sweaters the team has to wearâ€¦ missing that part isn’t bumming you out is it?
Hahaha, that stuff is funny. I’ve gotten a kick out of the photos I’ve seen. Who thought those were a good idea? Do you see people walking around the street wearing that stuff? No, they’d get beat up.
There’s a lot that goes in to making the teamâ€¦ it must require a lot of focus on that one thing. Are you the super-focused guy, or the “If I make it I make it guy?”
I just kept doing my own thing. It’s worked for me in the past, and I wasn’t going to change how I do things just because its a “bigger competition”. Sure we did a couple things that were focused on Olympics, but I wasn’t going to let it stress me out.
When you’re on the path to something like the Olympics. What’s it like being alongside someone like Shaun. There’s not any news to be found about who could have been there. There’s only news about Shaun dropping out. Do you guys sort of just put all that aside and try to take it for what it is?
Yea I could really care less about the Shaun drama. There’s always something with him. On a positive side, the more media attention he brings to himself, ultimately brings more attention to slopestyle as a whole. The whole thing about him pulling out of slope because he thought the course was difficult or intimidating, just made the other riders sound even better. They were still going to put down their best runs on a course that “the best snowboarder in the world” couldn’t ride.
Putting breaking your back aside, you were right there in the mix, and either would have been on the team or next in line. There’s are no alternates, sitting there to take over when someone drops out, right? When a guy drops out â€” putting injuries aside obviously â€” that to me is a huge bummer for whoever could have been.
Yea for sure. It just sucks, that because of Shaun, the US is only has 3 guys now. It’s like he cock blocked his own country, that’s not cool.
In that situation, assuming you’d be kind of pissed, who do you even get pissed at. Do you get pissed at Shaun, or pissed at the process?
In this situation I’d be pissed at both. It’s funny, my wife, back at Thanksgiving said, “I bet you Shaun makes it for slope, and then pulls out of the contest when he’s there.” And bingo bango she was right. I don’t know why they don’t bring an alternate for those kind of situations. I don’t know the whole situation, but it seems if Shaun would have made up his mind the night before his announcement, they could have gotten someone there in time. He waited till the day before the event. Kinda lame. It’s not like X Games where someone drops out and you put the next alternate in, he pretty much just took away an Olympic spot for the USA. That’s stupid.
When you’ve got your sights set on something like the Olympicsâ€¦ are you fully living for that? In other words, when you break your back leading up to it, is your first thought “fuck, I think I’ve just broken my back” or “I’ve got to wait another four years?”
This year fully revolved around Olympics. I’m not gonna lie, when the doctor came in and told me this was going to take me out of the Olympics, me and my wife broke down and cried for a while. It was a crazy feeling, to have something taken away from you that quick. Something that you could possibly only experience once in your life, and something only a handful a people will ever get to be a part of. A took a while to get over the fact, and I still get bummed every once in a while, but I will still live to snowboard another day, and that’s what’s most important!
Obviously you and I are sitting far away from the slopestyle course. But there’s been a lot of back and forth about it being too gnarly. It took out Torstein, and likely weighed into Shaun’s decision. What’s your opinion? Some might say “It’s the Olympics, it’s supposed to be gnarly” and others might say “It needs to be changed for the safety of those in the competition.” Obviously a snowboard course is not as defined as a gymnastics set up, where it’s a regulation set up.
I’m sure it’s gnarly, but so is every other contest course. X Games, is insane! That course is the furthest from mellow. But you have the best in the world riding, so they obviously can ride it at their best ability. At the Olympics, you have 30 riders from all these different countries, some of them are still considered amateur. They aren’t the 30 best riders in the world. They are just the ones their country has. If the countries had no limit, you’d probably see 8 riders from Norway, 6 from the US, 6 from Canada etc. SO of course you are going to get people that think its gnarly and “unsafe.” And, the media likes to blow up anything they can, so whatever.
Have you heard Shaun’s band?
Yea, Bad Things, or something like that? I want to hear Shaun sing! Now that would be funny! Does he wear his facemask on stage too?
Who do you think is most likely to pull a Scotty Lago this year, and get into a compromising situation with his or her medal?
Forget the medal, but the US Slopestyle coach Bill Enos will definitely be that guy! I can’t believe they let that guy loose with a bunch of Olympians in Russia! And I know Sage Kotsenburg will be right there to cheer him on! Love ya’ guys.
Is anyone going to go to Russian prison?
I sure hope not, dude that would be sketchy, I don’t even want to jinx anyone. But Sage and Bill might go in as a duo, but they would probably have a blast.
What if you were to make full recovery from your back injury, but for whatever reason you could only grab your boot.Â Do you just roll with it?
I’d go with it! Heck, you can make a career out of grabbing your boot even without a back a injury.
At this point do you even think about 2018 or do you just take things as they come and see what happens?
I would love to go in 2018. I’m going to give it my best shot. I love it. I love competing. It’s always been fun, and will continue to be fun for me! I have to give it another try, I can’t let a stupid broken back ruin it!
Assuming you’re going to be watching, who are you pulling for?
For sure Chas and Sage, it would be so sick to see those guys on the podium! Could you imagine Sage on an Olympic podium!? I wonder if he’d cry. I’d like to see Staale podium to, that guy is crazy.