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Professional snowboarder Silvia Mittermüller as a guest in the exhibition Sport-Data-Graphics

The sport of snowboarding has become highly professionalized since the end of the 1990s. Silvia Mittermüller told in her lecture how this development took place and which tensions can arise in the freestyle discipline as a result.

For the conclusion of the exhibition SportDatenGrafiken, professional freestyle snowboarder Silvia Mittermüller was a guest at the Dortmunder U. Last Thursday, this marked the end of the lecture series with a real professional athlete.

In her talk, she traced how freestyle snowboarding has developed since 1998 - the year the sport became Olympic.

The year 1998 was a special one for Mittermüller personally as well. At that time, the German athlete Nicola Thost secured the Olympic gold medal in the halfpipe category. For Mittermüller, this was an event that motivated her to also train for participation in the Olympic Games. In the years that followed, Mittermüller enjoyed many successes, but also had to cope with setbacks in the form of falls and injuries. Then in 2018, she made her debut at the Pyeongchang Olympics. In the training run, she crashed due to strong wind and suffered a meniscus tear. Nevertheless, she skied the competition course and thus completed a scored run.

Meanwhile, how has the discipline changed? Since freestyle snowboarding became an Olympic sport, not only have the jump distances and heights increased enormously, Mittermüller summarizes. The complexity of the jumps has also advanced considerably. As the sport has become enormously professionalized, different data is also playing a more important role. These include video data that athletes use for analysis in training. Strength training data would play a big role for sports federations. Weather data would be important in deciding whether a jump is too dangerous - for example, because of strong gusts of wind. But competition results and social media figures are also relevant data that help decide whether athletes receive support from sponsors, for example.

For the Munich native, professionalization is in some ways in conflict with the original idea of freestyle snowboarding. The sport actually stands for individuality and creativity, says Mittermüller. At events like the Olympics, on the other hand, the focus is on professionalism and clear rules.

The number of points awarded to a freestyle performance always has a subjective component - for example, the overall impression includes how creatively a run is executed. How would such a system affect other sports? In a thought experiment, the snowboarder and the evening's moderator, Henri Schlund, discussed with the guests the extent to which an evaluation using scores would also be conceivable in soccer. Let's assume that goals were scored differently depending on their execution - would that make soccer more attractive? The panel agreed that it would definitely change the character of the sport noticeably.

The SportDatenGrafiken exhibition at Dortmunder U, organized by the Faculty of Statistics and the Institute of Journalism, opened its doors to visitors for the last time on Monday, May 29.