The double cork: a classic case of risk vs. reward

Halfpipe snowboarding continues to evolve at a frightening pace. The Olympic event is just eight years old, but it’s the past six months that have been a game-changer for the halfpipe. Competitors have routinely shattered performance barriers in a quest to perfect the winning routine for the upcoming Vancouver Winter Olympics.

Today, one menacing new move is a prerequisite for capturing gold in Vancouver: the double cork.

The double cork is so complex even physics teachers would have a tough time explaining its inverted spins and off-axis orbits. By the time riders land this dizzying move they’ve spun at least 1080 degrees while flipping over backward twice. That said, there’s plenty of variance in how the move is executed. Not all double corks are the same.

“That’s what’s cool about snowboarding,” says Louie Vito, who is representing Team USA in Vancouver. “You can add your own creativity to it, there’s no right or wrong.”

Indeed, each of the men on the U.S. halfpipe team has added a variation of the move to their arsenal. Most have only mastered it in the past six months, and the process was far from easy. U.S. snowboarding star Kevin Pearce, who many considered Shaun White‘s biggest threat this year, was critically injured Dec. 31 while practicing the move in Utah. He’s still being treated for a traumatic brain injury.

While several riders around the world have been abused by the double cork en route to the Olympic Games, Pearce’s accident put a bright spotlight on the very real dangers of it — the double cork is unquestionably the riskiest move of all those being performed in the halfpipe.

Risks or not, nothing will slow Pearce’s friends from going all out in Vancouver next Wednesday when the halfpipe competition gets under way. The double cork is likely to be one of the most memorable phrases of the 2010 Winter Olympics.