The sport of freestyle skiing continues its upward climb in popularity at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia as two more events make their debut on the grandest of stages.
Halfpipe and slopestyle events are the newest entrants to the scene, which means freestyle skiing will now make up 10 of the 98 events at the Winter Games.
As the popularity of the sport continues to rise, new stars who have strong chances to take home medals will become global, household names and will surely emerge. Obvious favorites will stick out as contestants and fans of this rising sport will want to watch closely to get a taste of how thrilling it can be.
Hannah Kearney, United States, Moguls
A native of Vermont, Hannah Kearney has been the definition of dominant in moguls, a sport that helped to pave the way for freestyle skiing since it gained its medal status in 1992.
Kearney is the reigning gold-medal winner on the women's side of things and has won the last three World Cup titles. Her last impressive run was especially dominant as she won six of the 10 events overall to take home the top prize.
Now, Kearney is on a comeback trail after two broken ribs and a bruised liver in October 2012, and she says she is stronger than ever in the aftermath, via Stephen Smith of CBS News:
I want to stand in that start gate and have full confidence that I'm going to lay down a good run, and for me that comes from knowing that I did exactly 1,022 jumps into a pool this summer to practice. I truly believe I can become a better moguls skier. My plan in Sochi is to ski the three or four best mogul runs of my life.
Kearney is part of the old guard who has helped to put the sport on the map, and she is worthy of the full attention from all viewers as she looks to once again dominate.
Lydia Lassila, Australia, Aerial
Lydia Lassila is a recognizable name thanks to her stellar career thus far in the women's aerials at the Winter Games.
The spectacle in Sochi will be Lassila's fourth Games, and she enters as the defending champion. As Sochi On Ten illustrates, Lassila has a chance to make history if she wins again:
.@LydiaLassila can become the first Aerial skier in Winter Olympic Games history to win back to back gold medals if she wins at Sochi 2014!— Sochi On Ten (@SochiOnTen) January 31, 2014
However, Lassila says she does not feel increased pressure to win, via Lorraine Lock of Women's Agenda:
"No it's a relief to be the defending champion! I know what it's like to yearn for an Olympic Gold Medal and I'm in a much better position now that I have one."
At the age of 32, Lassila brings plenty to the table as a competitor. She also happens to be quite the entertainer, as she and Canada's Travis Gerrits recently combined for an entertaining Vine post:
All in all, Lassila is the complete package and a noteworthy competitor sure to put on a show for observers.
David Wise, United States, Halfpipe
David Wise is the man to beat at the inaugural halfpipe event in Sochi.
Wise has been an ambassador for the sport for several years and will finally get to fulfill his dream of representing his country in the Olympics with the sport's addition.
A six-time winner of the U.S. National Title, an FIS World Champion and a first-place winner at the Winter X Games in Ski SuperPipe in 2012 and 2013, the 23-year-old Wise has quite the resume.
Wise is refreshingly humble despite his impending star status and says the key to a win is keeping things in perspective, via Lauren Gustus of The Reno Gazette-Journal:
When I first won the X Games, I wrote on my jacket, ‘embrace the opportunity,’ with a paint marker so that I would remind myself every time before I dropped in. It’s not about winning or losing or what people think of you. It’s about you going out and doing what you love to do, your art. You have an opportunity. So just go. Embrace it. So, yeah, I always look at that before I drop in. And then I drop.
Many new names and faces will make themselves known in the new sports recently added to the Winter Games, but Wise rises above the rest as a name to watch as he continues to champion and innovate the sport he loves.