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THE STORY OF LORANNE SMANS, AN OLYMPIC QUALIFIED SNOWBOARDER WITHOUT A SPOT TO COMPETE

Over the past few weeks the snowboarding community has been really excited about the upcoming Olympics. But not everything is excitement and happiness for everybody. There are some stories with a rather sour taste that are also worth being shared. This is the story of Loranne Smans and how her Olympic dream got furstrated by unfair decisions, strict criteria and court judges.

Hi Loranne, first of all, thank you for this interview. For those who do not know you, please, introduce yourself.

Hi! My name is Loranne and I am a snowboarder from Belgium. I started snowboarding at one of the Belgian indoor slopes when I was 10 years old. From the moment I first strapped in my bindings, I fell in love with snowboarding J

It must be some pretty overwhelming times for you after the latest news of the Belgian federation. Can you explain for our readers what happened?

I qualified in 13th place on the Olympic Quota Allocation List, which I am very proud of. Top 30 on that list of all women in the world qualify for the Games. Yet, I’ve been informed by my federation after the Laax Open (last Olympic qualifier before the Games) that they will send the other Belgian girl placed in 36th position, based on national criteria. She qualifies herself for the Olympic Games with two Premium European Cups where only 2 riders out of the Olympic top 30 were competing. She finished 7th out of 15 and 4th out of 12 participants. While I qualified myself in the Olympic top 30 with two 4th places at World Cups and a 9th place at the World Champs where basically the whole Olympic field was competing.

Those national criteria have been adjusted half a year ago. My federation never communicated this adjustment with the riders. Because of this change, I was in the “danger zone” for the Olympics during the last two World Cups. My technical director, my coach and my mental coach (and who knows who else) knew I was in the “danger zone”, but they decided not to tell me. Even more, they withheld information that could have changed the outcome for me. I could have done the last pre-Olympic competitions differently if I would have known all this. I’ve always been told my spot at the Olympics is secured and I “just” have to stay injury free and healthy.

Did you try to legally battle this? How did it go?

From as soon as I heard the news, I knew something wasn’t right. It felt (still feels) so unfair to me. I worked together with two lawyers and a couple days later, on the 21st of January, we filed for a preliminary injunction (if that’s the right English word for it) demanding that my federation withdraws the adjustment of the national criteria they made. Because if the original national criteria are used, the federation has to send me to the Games. We didn’t have much time since on the 24th of January the Belgian Olympic Committee (BOIC) had to send the official names of their athletes to the IOC. That’s why we didn’t have time for a “normal” lawsuit. In a preliminary injunction, the Judge can’t make certain decisions if the impact is big. I think that’s why we lost the case. In a normal lawsuit we would have gotten a much higher chance of winning it, I think.

Loranne Smans on a massive booter captured by Marcus Skin

When did you hear about this new national criteria then?

The original national criteria was made in June 2020. The only time I’ve been told about them was via a PowerPoint slide they showed us during a team day. They changed the criteria 6 months ago (July 2021), but that adjustment was NEVER communicated to the athletes. However, the federation communicated those change of criteria to the BOIC and they have to base themselves on the adjusted criteria. That’s why both my federation and the BOIC say “they can’t do anything about the whole situation because they have to follow the rules”. The only thing that could have changed the outcome at the end is if the other Belgian snowboarder doesn’t take my spot and says I deserve to go. That didn’t happen though…

Pretty obvious question but, how are you feeling at the moment? 
Not gonna lie, I’ve had a very rough couple of days the past two weeks. I was heartbroken, I was very sad, I was very mad,… Most of all I was in disbelief and I still am. During the whole lawsuit and the days leading up to it, I was very nervous as well. I’ve received HEAPS of messages and those helped me a lot. I was overwhelmed by everyone’s kind reactions. It made me feel better and it comforted me a lot.

At the moment, I can’t change anything about what happened anymore. I can’t blame myself for anything because I did everything I could or had to do. I’m trying to move on and to focus on the future again! Good thing snowboarding is so much more than the Olympics!

Let’s be honest, that’s a very very unfair situation and we share your feelings. Do you know if this has happened in the past? Or are you the “unlucky” one?
I don’t know if an exact similar situation has happened before. I’ve qualified myself AND Belgium in the Olympic top 30 for snowboarding and they are sending someone ranked much lower, because they based those national criteria on European Cups (which have nothing to do with the Olympics).

Although I am pretty sure there are a lot of athletes in the past and at the moment who deserved an Olympic spot achieved through their hard work, but because of some government reasons/decisions were not alowed to make their dream come true. In that case, I’m definitely not the only one.

We’ve seen in the news that the Dutch skier, Isabelle Hanssen, who also met the Olympic criteria, had another legal battle with her own federation on the same day and it didn’t go her way either. It seems like it’s going to be a very controversial Olympic year. Do you think the Olympic comittee should have the last word in these cases?
Well let me explain. The Olympic committee doesn’t know much about the sport. They don’t know what competitions are representative to the Olympics, they don’t know what tricks get scored high,…etc. That’s why they stand behind the federation’s decisions because they assume those are the right/fair ones. The federation goes to the Olympic committee and says “this is the national criteria we need to base ourselves on to send the best athlete to the Games”.  The Olympic committee, who like I just said doesn’t know much about the sport, accepts it. Once those rules are definite, they have to follow them. So in this case, if at the end it seems like the national criteria did not let the best athlete go to the Games, it’s too late for them to change the rules (is what they told me). Let’s just hope they learn something about it this time…

Loranne Smans jumping of a rail in a slopestyle course
Loranne Smans coming out of the polejam at Mammoth Mountain, captured by Marcus Skin

What do you think that should change inside federations to make it more fair for the riders?
LISTEN to the riders and put the riders first. Obviously, communication is a big must.

After all that has happened. And obviously I know it is pretty recent, but would you still consider trying to get a spot for the next Olympics or are you done with it?
Of course I’m still going for the next Olympics. Maybe it’s bad to say, but I’ve never been more eager to prove someone wrong. I’m gonna make them regret this decision, but most of all I’m gonna do it for myself!

Where are yor thoughts now? And what are your plans for the rest of the season? Will we still see you competing?
Like I said, the past two weeks were very intense and emotional. But now, I want to move on and focus on the future. To be honest, after all this I just want to go snowboarding! Since I’m not going to the Olympics, I’ll probably do one or two more World Cups this season. I also REALLY want to go film with my sponsors, Volcom and K2. I feel like it was very hard the past season (with covid) to organise a shoot or a team trip. I also had a very busy schedule with all the competitions and training camps leading up to the Games. I’m really looking forward to spending some more time filming. And I’m also VERY excited for The Audi Nines in April!

Have you maybe considered also trying other disciplines besides slopestyle? It’d be rad to see you hitting some streets or some powder!
I love riding powder! I feel like I’ve got a lot to learn in the backcountry, but I’m for sure open for it. For street riding, I think I need to step up my rail game a bit first (haha!)

Well, that’s it. Thank you for your time, Loranne and keep ripping. We hope you get some mental rest and some real soul riding soon. Before we go, would you like to add anything else?
Thank you so much for this interview! I’m glad I could tell you guys my story. I also want to thank everyone who reached out to me, texted me, commented, shared my post… I really appreciate it and it means a lot to me <3