American Maddie Bowman, who is considered a strong gold-medal contender in Thursday's inaugural Olympic women's freestyle skiing halfpipe, seems well aware that the whole world will be watching her.
And she likes it.
As the United States continues to rake in medals in X Games-style sports during these Winter Games in Sochi, there is no doubt that Bowman—yet another X Games veteran and champion—would like to do her part. And while she and reigning world champion Virginie Faivre of Switzerland are expected to duel for the gold, this is about so much more than hardware for Bowman and her fellow women freestylers.
Faivre, 31, is a seasoned veteran who has been competing in women's halfpipe on the World Cup circuit since 2003 and is a two-time world champion.
Much of what drives her and Bowman is the feeling that they not only are representing their home countries, but that they are representing their sport. For too long, they believe, it was left off the Olympic Winter Games roster.
Bowman, 19, recently told Mother Jones magazine that she believes she understands the widespread appeal of the free-wheeling women freestyle skiers.
"I think people want to see that side of us—just being kids goofing off. That's what we do. That's why we love what we do. That's how we've gotten so far in skiing," Bowman told the website.
That wasn't all. She also talked about what the Mother Jones article called "her sport's spirit animal." Guarantee it's not what you think.
"It's like a polar bear-grizzly bear mix—a pizzly!" Bowman told the website. "As the ice is melting, the polar bears are migrating south into grizzly territory and they're mating, and they have this baby that's a hybrid. So two hybrid pizzlies could make a baby pizzly. It's a new species, and it's super badass."
Only a freestyle skier could use the terms "pizzly" and "super badass" in consecutive sentences and have a real clear idea of what they are talking about.
Like many other freestyle skiers, Bowman admitted that she tried more traditional ski racing and found it too restricting.
"It felt a little too serious—a little too strict," she told Mother Jones "I just kind of fell in love with the whole idea of skiing around with your friends and having fun, trying new things, and being creative. It allowed for a lot more freedom."
Bowman's U.S. teammate Devin Logan, who won the silver medal in the earlier inaugural women's slopestyle event but will not compete in the halfpipe, has talked about how she was introduced to the sport at a young age by her brothers. She would like to see these Olympics do the same for those who may be watching it on television for the first time, especially young girls who have never been able to see women compete in events such as the slopestyle and halfpipe until now.
Logan had this to say to The Boston Globe:
If you stand at the bottom of the halfpipe, you see all these people flying 20 feet in the air, flipping, twisting. What's not appealing about it? You're like, 'Oh, are they going to land or not?' You're on your toes the whole time. There's that adrenaline rush, even if you're watching other people. You're scared for them, but you're impressed. It's a lot of emotions packed in one. I have a feeling you're going to see so many more people join the sport and want to be part of it after the Olympics.
Team USA sure is happy it has been. Bowman hopes to follow in Logan's ski tracks and earn another medal, too, for the X Games gang. The X Games veterans have helped make up for for massive U.S. disappointments and a severe medal shortage on the alpine skiing and speedskating sides.
If the U.S freestyle skiers can bring the world along for the ride, so much the better.