Olympic Freestyle Skiing 2014: Complete Guide for Sochi Winter Olympics

Brian PedersenFeatured ColumnistFebruary 3, 2014

Olympic Freestyle Skiing 2014: Complete Guide for Sochi Winter Olympics

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Freestyle skiing will increase its presence at the Winter Olympics in 2014, now making up 10 of the 98 medal events scheduled for Sochi, after awarding medals in just six events at the 2010 Games in Vancouver.

    A combination of traditional skiing and modern daredevil-like trickery, freestyle events have grown in popularity both in terms of participation and event attendance since their debut 26 years ago. It's also a diverse set of events, with 16 different countries winning at least one medal.

    Check out our complete guide to Olympic freestyle skiing, including event schedules and descriptions, athletes and storylines to watch, medal predictions and Team USA's outlook heading into Sochi.

     

Overview

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Freestyle skiing is part of the new school of winter sports, with Sochi being only the seventh Games to award medals in any of the disciplines.

    The events are a blend of speed, skill and acrobatics, with some events featuring both a timed component and judges' scores for the effectiveness and difficulty of moves, which are often performed high in the air. Adding to the flair in some events, such as ski cross and new events half-pipe and slopestyle, are the presence of obstacles that skiers traverse on, around or over as part of the race or performance.

    All events will be held at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park in Krasnaya Polyana, a mountainous region just outside Sochi.

History

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    Marcio Sanchez/Associated Press

    Though it's been around since the 1960s as a fringe version of skiing, freestyle wasn't introduced at the Olympic level until 1988, when moguls, aerials and ski ballet were offered as demonstration events in Calgary.

    Moguls gained full medal status in 1992 at the Albertville Games, while aerials joined the medal schedule in Lillehammer, Norway in 1994. Ski ballet never made it past demonstration status.

    Since then the sport has grown immensely, particularly away from the Olympics. The advent of the Winter X Games on ESPN boosted interest, both in the United States and worldwide, and in 2010 ski cross was added for Vancouver.

    The Sochi calendar includes two new Olympic freestyle events: half-pipe and slopestyle. Both were approved by the International Olympic Committee in 2011.

Schedule, TV and Live Stream Info

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    Marcio Sanchez/Associated Press

    All times ET (TV times in parentheses)

    Thursday, Feb. 6
    Women's moguls qualifying, 9 a.m. (taped coverage, 8 p.m., NBC)

    Saturday, Feb. 8
    Women's moguls qualifying, 9 a.m.
    Women's moguls finals, 1 p.m. (taped coverage, 8 p.m., NBC)

    Monday, Feb. 10
    Men's moguls qualifying, 9 a.m.
    Men's moguls finals, 1 p.m. (taped coverage, 8 p.m., NBC)

    Tuesday, Feb. 11
    Women's slopestyle qualifying, 1 a.m. (taped coverage, 3 p.m., NBC)
    Women's slopestyle final, 4 a.m. (taped coverage, 8 p.m., NBC)

    Thursday, Feb. 13
    Men's slopestyle qualifying, 1:15 a.m.
    Men's slopestyle final, 4:30 a.m. (taped coverage, 8 p.m., NBC)

    Friday, Feb. 14
    Women's aerials qualifying, 8:45 a.m. (taped coverage, 3 p.m., NBC)
    Women's aerials finals, 12:30 p.m. (taped coverage, 8 p.m., NBC)

    Monday, Feb. 17
    Men's aerials qualifying, 8:45 a.m. (taped coverage, 3 p.m., NBC)
    Men's aerials finals, 12:30 p.m. (taped coverage, 8 p.m., NBC)

    Tuesday, Feb. 18
    Men's ski halfpipe qualifying, 8:45 a.m.
    Men's ski halfpipe finals, 12:30 p.m. (taped coverage, 8 p.m., NBC)

    Thursday, Feb. 20
    Men's ski cross seeding, 2:45 a.m. (taped coverage, 12 p.m., NBC)
    Men's ski cross eighth-finals, 4:30 a.m. (taped coverage, 12 p.m., NBC)
    Men's ski cross quarterfinals, 5:05 a.m. (taped coverage, 12 p.m., NBC)
    Men's ski cross semifinals, 5:25 a.m. (taped coverage, 12 p.m., NBC)
    Men's ski cross finals, 5:41 a.m. (taped coverage, 8 p.m., NBC)
    Women's ski halfpipe qualifying, 9:30 a.m.
    Women's ski halfpipe finals, 12:30 p.m. (taped coverage, 8 p.m., NBC)

    Friday, Feb. 21

    Women's ski cross seeding, 2:45 a.m. (live, NBCSN)
    Women's ski cross eighth-finals, 4:30 a.m. (live, NBCSN)
    Women's ski cross quarterfinals, 5:05 a.m. (live, NBCSN)
    Women's ski cross semifinals, 5:25 a.m. (live, NBCSN)
    Women's ski cross finals, 5:41 a.m. (taped coverage, 3 p.m., NBC)

    (NOTE: All events will be streamed live on NBCOlympics.com)

Athletes to Watch

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Hannah Kearney, United States
    Kearney is the reigning gold-medal winner in the women's moguls, and since then she has won the last three World Cup titles in the discipline. 

    Mikael Kingsbury, Canada
    A first-time Olympian, Kingsbury won the world championship in men's moguls in 2013. He has also won three World Cup moguls events in the past year and is considered the favorite to take gold ahead of fellow countryman and 2010 Olympic champ Alexandre Bilodeau.

    Lydia Lassila, Australia
    Lassila is the defending Olympic champion in women's aerials. One of the older competitors at 32, this will be her fourth Games, having placed eighth in 2002 and 14th in 2006. 

    Kaya Turski, Canada
    With slopestyle making its Olympic debut, Turski enters as the favorite to win the first-ever women's gold after taking the 2013 World Championship title in Voss, Norway.

    David Wise, United States
    Wise is the front-runner to take the gold in the inaugural men's half-pipe event. He's the reigning two-time U.S. champ and won the 2013 world title as well.

     

     

     

Slopestyle

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    Paul Bussi-USA TODAY Sports

    What is it?

    Ski slopestyle is making its Olympic debut in Sochi, bringing the popular X Games event to a larger world stage. First done exclusively by snowboarders, it has crossed over to the skiing community.

    Slopestyle is performed on a downhill course cluttered with jumps, rails and other obstacles that are used by the skiers to jump off and over, performing aerials stunts and tricks in the process. Points are awarded by a panel of judges who rate the accuracy and difficulty of the moves performed, giving the skier a total score when he completes the course.

    The event is done as an elimination competition, with each skier going twice during qualifying, then the top group advancing to the finals. 

    Storylines to watch

    Men: American Tom Wallisch was expected to be the runaway favorite to win the first-ever Olympic slopestyle competition—part of the reason he was among the skiers chosen to unveil Team USA's uniforms. But Wallisch wasn't picked to be among the four U.S. skiers headed to Sochi.

    Powder.com's Mike Rogge wrote that Wallisch, who struggled during recent competitions that served as de facto Olympic trials, might have been skiing with a nagging knee injury that affected his moves.

    Women: Canadian Kaya Turski has dominated slopestyle since taking it up in 2006, moving over from what had been a solid career as a professional in-line skater. She's won numerous X Games titles, despite missing two years of competition after suffering a torn ACL and internal organ injuries in a fall.

Half-Pipe

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    Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

    What is it?

    Ski half-pipe is also debuting in Sochi and, like slopestyle, is an event that was first done with snowboards. But unlike slopestyle, half-pipe is done on a course where competitors go back and forth over the same snow trying to get in as many somersaults, twists, flips and other moves as possible in order to achieve the highest score.

    All skiers perform two runs, with the best single-run scores during qualifying moving on to the final round.

    Storylines to watch

    Men: American David Wise has been the favorite to win this event ever since it was added to the Olympics three years ago. Since then, he's won nearly every major half-pipe competition, including both the Winter X Games and World Championships.

    Women: Though not among the top contenders for a medal, American Angeli VanLaanen's inclusion on the Olympic team is a story in itself. She missed three years battling Lyme Disease and is now a spokeswoman for the LymeLight Foundation charitable organization.

Moguls

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    Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

    What is it?

    Mogul skiing involves skiers racing a bumpy, downhill course. The bumps, known as moguls, are meant to be skied over or around, but in a manner that keeps the racer as close to the ground as possible, so as not to lose speed. Skiers try to keep their knees bent and their shoulders straight for good form.

    In addition, each skier must perform two jumps during the course, for which they get points. The combination of time, jump points and efficiency navigating the moguls determines the winner.

    Storylines to watch

    Men: This event should bring out the best in Canada's freestyle team, with reigning gold medalist Alexandre Bilodeau and rising star Mikael Kingsbury battling it out the past year on the World Cup circuit. Kingsbury, just 21 years old, won the World Cup and world championship titles, but in the world dual moguls event, Bilodeau came out on top.

    Women: Americans Hannah Kearney and Heather McPhie could have each other to thank for a possible 1-2 finish in the moguls final. The duo have been battling each other in competitions across the globe for the past year, though Kearney has gotten the best of her teammate most times.

Aerials

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    What is it?

    Aerial skiing is a purely judged event, with each competitor taking off from the top of the slope and then taking off from a jump at the bottom of the hill. When in the air, the skier tries to get in as many twists, turns, flips and other moves as possible before landing.

    A skier's score is based on technique and effectiveness on the takeoff, in-air moves, jump form and landing. Each skier does two jumps in qualifying and again in finals for whoever advances.

    Storylines to watch

    Men: China has become a major player in the aerials game over the last few years, with teammates Qi Guangpu and Jia Zongyang trading wins across the world the last 12 months. Zongyang was sixth and Guangpu seventh, respectively, at the 2010 Vancouver Games.

    Women: Russia's Veronika Korsunova might be the host country's only hope for a medal in the freestyle skiing events. She was second at the World Championships last year but will face an uphill battle competing against the likes of 2010 gold medalist Lydia Lassila of Australia and Chinese phenom Xu Mengtao.

Ski Cross

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    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    What is it?

    Ski cross is another event borne from snowboarding. Each skier, one at a time, races down a 1,000-meter course that features various turns and obstacles to navigate as fast as possible. Skiers are then seeded by their times, with everyone competing in the elimination round.

    Skiers then are grouped in fours, with all four taking the course simultaneously. The top two from each heat advance to the next round, with four skiers ultimately racing in the finals. With 32 competitors in the field, this means a "one-eighth finals" round held before the quarterfinals.

    Storylines to watch

    Men: Alex Fiva was born in California but will be representing Switzerland in Sochi. He's a former junior Alpine skiing champ who made the switch to freestyle in 2008 and has been slowly rising up the ranks ever since.

    Women: Fanny Smith of Switzerland, the 2013 world champion in ski cross, is looking to improve on a seventh place finish at the Vancouver Olympics. Despite being only 17, she was third after qualifying and looked primed to be the youngest freestyle ski medalist ever, but she failed to advance beyond the semifinal race and finished seventh.

Team USA Outlook

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    Nathan Bilow-USA TODAY Sports

    Team USA has been a huge player in Olympic freestyle skiing since its introduction, winning more medals (14) than any other country and sending at least two members to medal podiums in all but one set of Games since 1992.

    The Sochi Games should provide the United States with another great chance to load up on medals, especially with the introduction of slopestyle and half-pipe, events the Americans have fared well in at other international competitions.

    Unlike other winter sports where athletes compete in multiple events, no U.S. skiers will be trying for more than one medal. But several Americans, including Hannah Kearney (moguls) and David Wise (half-pipe), should lead a strong charge for hardware.

Medal Predictions

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    Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

    Projected Medal Tally (by country)

    United States: 8 (3 gold, 3 silver, 2 bronze)
    Canada: 8 (2 gold, 3 silver, 3 bronze)
    Switzerland: 5 (2 gold, 1 silver, 2 bronze)
    China: 3 (2 gold, 1 bronze)
    Australia: 2 (1 gold, 1 silver)
    Austria: 1 (1 silver)
    Norway: 1 (1 silver)
    Great Britain: 1 (1 bronze)
    Sweden: 1 (1 bronze)

    Nine countries won medals in 2010, and the same is projected this time around. But the addition of half-pipe and slopestyle, events borne from the X Games, will give the U.S. and Canada extra chances to pad their medal totals. Switzerland could be a dark horse, too.