Olympic Freestyle Skiing 2018: Complete Guide to Pyeongchang Winter Games

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistFebruary 5, 2018

Olympic Freestyle Skiing 2018: Complete Guide to Pyeongchang Winter Games

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    Andy Wong/Associated Press

    Freestyle skiing will feature several of the most visually appealing events at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

    The flips, spins and twists can easily captivate even the untrained eye. Speed, the ultimate draw for some, is also a factor in a couple of the freestyle competitions.

    Both men and women will compete in five disciplines: aerials, halfpipe, moguls, ski cross and slopestyle. This is the second Winter Olympics that will feature those five events.

    Although the United States and Canada should put several athletes on the podium in these events, the North American countries will face tough tests for gold medals.

History

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    Sergei Grits/Associated Press

    Though freestyle skiing has existed for nearly 60 years, it's a relatively new and steadily growing part of the Winter Olympics. Pyeongchang is the eighth cycle to include the discipline.

    Aerials, moguls and ski ballet first appeared during the 1988 Calgary Games, though they were demonstration events. Moguls became a medal event at Albertville in 1992, and aerials joined its counterpart at the 1994 Lillehammer Games.

    Ski cross gained medal status at Vancouver in 2010, and the 2014 Sochi Games featured the debut of slopestyle and halfpipe.

Schedule, TV and Live-Stream Info

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    Sergei Grits/Associated Press

    All times ET

    Thursday, Feb. 8

    Women's moguls qualifying, 8 p.m.
    Men's moguls qualifying, 9:45 p.m.

                   

    Sunday, Feb. 11

    Women's moguls finals, 7 a.m.

               

    Monday, Feb. 12

    Men's moguls finals, 7 a.m.

                 

    Thursday, Feb. 15
    Women's aerials qualifying, 6 a.m.

              

    Friday, Feb. 16

    Women's aerials finals, 6 a.m.
    Women's slopestyle qualifying, 8 p.m.
    Women's slopestyle final, 11 p.m.

             

    Saturday, Feb. 17

    Men's aerials qualifying, 6 a.m.
    Men's slopestyle qualifying, 8 p.m.
    Men's slopestyle final, 11:15 p.m.

               

    Sunday, Feb. 18

    Men's aerials finals, 6 a.m.
    Women's halfpipe qualifying, 8 p.m.

                 

    Monday, Feb. 19

    Women's halfpipe final, 8:30 p.m.
    Men's halfpipe qualifying, 11 p.m.

               

    Tuesday, Feb. 20

    Men's ski cross seeding, 9:30 p.m.
    Men's ski cross eighth-finals, 11:15 p.m.
    Men's ski cross quarterfinals, 11:50 p.m.

                    

    Wednesday, Feb. 21

    Men's ski cross semifinals, 12:14 a.m.
    Men's ski cross finals, 12:30 a.m.
    Men's halfpipe final, 9:30 p.m.

               

    Thursday, Feb. 22

    Women's ski cross seeding, 9:30 p.m.
    Women's ski cross eighth-finals, 11:15 p.m.
    Women's ski cross quarterfinals, 11:50 p.m.

                    

    Friday, Feb. 23

    Women's ski cross semifinals, 12:14 a.m.
    Women's ski cross finals, 12:30 a.m.

                        

    Note: All events will be streamed live on NBCOlympics.com

Athletes to Watch

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    Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

    Jaelin Kauf, United States

    Team USA has earned two medals of every type in the seven-cycle Olympic history of women's moguls. Hannah Kearney retired, but Jaelin Kauf is picking up where the two-time Olympic medalist left off. Kauf is currently the World Cup leader in the discipline.

         

    Mikael Kingsbury, Canada

    At just 25 years old, Mikael Kingsbury is already a legend in men's moguls. He's won six consecutive World Cup titles and is cruising toward a seventh. Kingsbury, who took silver in Sochi, is looking to add Olympic gold to his already tremendous career.

         

    Anton Kushnir, Belarus

    Belarus has enjoyed one medalist in men's aerials during each of the last five Winter Olympics. Anton Kushnir, the reigning gold-medal winner, finished third in the 2016-17 World Cup season and has won four events over the last two years.

         

    Sandra Naeslund, Sweden

    Sandra Naeslund will arrive as the most dominant woman in ski cross. During this World Cup season, the Swede has finished no worse than third in any competition. Naeslund won the small final in Sochi but has eyes on the big final in Pyeongchang.

Aerials

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    Sergei Grits/Associated Press

    What is it?

    Aerial skiing is a simplebut certainly not easyevent: Execute the best tricks, and do it consistently. Judges award scores based on air (takeoff, height and length), form (style, execution and accuracy) and landing. The athletes use two- and four-meter jumps.

    Six participants will advance through the 25-person qualifying round. The second qualifying round sends six of the remaining 19 to the finals, where the number of skiers is gradually whittled from 12 to eight to four.

                     

    Storylines to watch

    Men: Belarus, China and Russia accounted for 14 of the 18 top-three finishes in this season's World Cup. Mac Bohonnon, who won the season championship in 2014-15 and was second in 2016-17, will attempt to crash the podium for a United States team that struggled in 2017-18.

    Women: Team USA's Ashley Caldwell has the best trick of the entire field: a triple-flip, quadruple-twist called "The Daddy." But will the triple-flipper string together enough clean jumps to reach the medal round? She crushed the field during qualifying in Sochi but bowed out in the opening round of the final.

Halfpipe

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    What is it?

    The name explains everything you need to know about the design of the course. Skiers pick up speed before entering the halfpipe, where they attempt to execute spins, flips and grabs while alternating jumps off the sides of the pipe.

    Skiers have two runs in the qualifying round. A panel of judges grade the performances based on height, turn, technique and difficulty, and the scores are averaged together to create the final number. The best score of the two runs counts.

    Twelve skiers advance to the final. Scores from qualifying do not carry over. The system of using the best score over two runs is then repeated to determine medal winners.

                     

    Storylines to watch

    Men: The halfpipe contains one of Team USA's best chances for multiple podium finishes. David Wise won the inaugural event in Sochi, and teammates Alex Ferreira, Torin Yater-Wallace and Aaron Blunck could all be in the medal conversation, too.

    Women: This is a stacked field. Maddie Bowman is the defending gold medalist, and each of Devin Logan, Annalisa Drew and Brita Sigourney finished in the top 10 at the 2017 World Championships. The American quartet will battle France's Marie Martinod, Canada's Cassie Sharpe and Japan's Ayana Onozuka for medals.

Moguls

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    JEAN-PIERRE CLATOT/Getty Images

    What is it?

    Athletes speed down a 250-meter course while navigating through mogulsmassive bumps created artificially for this eventand add a little flair with two jumps. Judges build the score based on turning technique, air maneuvers and speed.

    Thirty skiers begin the event, and 10 individuals advance in each of the first and second qualifying rounds. The final is separated into three parts, and the field is trimmed from 20 to 12 to six. The remaining skiers battle for the three pieces of hardware.

                  

    Storylines to watch

    Men: Alexandre Bilodeau, the only freestyle skier to win consecutive gold medals in any disciple, retired shortly after winning in Sochi. However, Canada is expected to remain atop the podium thanks to Mikael Kingsbury. Will he back up his billing?

    Women: The Dufour-Lapointe sisters have Olympic dominance on the mind. In Sochi, Justine won gold, Chloe earned silver and Maxime finished 12th. Although Maxime did not qualify for Pyeongchang, Justine and Chloe (along with Andi Naude) could help Canada sweep the men's and women's events.

Ski Cross

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    Sergei Grits/Associated Press

    What is it?

    Unlike the other freestyle events, Ski cross is purely objective. It's a 1,050-meter downhill race that features various banks, rolls and jumps, and time is the only metric that matters.

    To begin, every athleteone at a timespeeds down the course in a seeding run. From there, the skiers are separated into four-person groups based on their times. The top two finishers in the succeeding heats advance to the quarterfinals, and that repeats until a four-person final.

                   

    Storylines to watch

    Men: France swept the podium in 2014 with Jean-Frederic Chapuis, Arnaud Bovolenta and Jonathan Midol medaling. Chapuis remains a top contender, but Switzerlandwhich boasted the gold-medal winner in 2010has two threats in Marc Bischofberger and Alex Fiva.

    Women: Sandra Naeslund (Sweden) has six World Cup wins and two more podium finishes in eight events this season. Heidi Zacher (Germany) has a World Cup triumph and five other top-three finishes. One seems likely to earn gold in Pyeongchang, but will they be upset?

Slopestyle

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    Sergei Grits/Associated Press

    What is it?

    Skiers have 150 meters, three jumps and three rail sections to impress the panel of judges and claim gold in slopestyle. While the scoring is entirely subjective, factors include height, turn, technique, variety, progression and difficulty.

    Similar to the halfpipe competition, skiers take the higher score from two runs, and 12 individuals reach the final. The higher score of the subsequent two runs for those skiers creates the final standings.

               

    Storylines to watch

    Men: Team USA owned the slopestyle podium during the Sochi Games. But the four-man American team, while talented, faces a major battle with skiers from Norway, Sweden and Great Britain.

    Women: This event feels completely up for grabs. Norway, Sweden, Canada, France and the U.S. all have a decent chance at earning a medal, so the slopestyle final should be nerve-wracking to the end.

Team USA Outlook

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    Mel Evans/Associated Press

    The halfpipe should be the best showing for the United States. David Wise and Maddie Bowman topped the podium in 2014, and they're both returning to the Olympics.

    Team USA also has three reigning world champions in Caldwell (women's aerials), Blunck (men's halfpipe) and McRae Williams (men's slopestyle) headed to South Korea.

    Joss Christensen, the gold medalist in slopestyle at Sochi, did not qualify. But this teamwith Williams, 2014 silver medalist Gus Kenworthy, bronze medalist Nick Goepper and Alex Hallhas clear medal hopes. Devin Logan, Maggie Voisin and Caroline Claire give the U.S. women a formidable podium chance, too.

    Bowman, Logan and Sigourney all have top-three finishes in halfpipe during this World Cup campaign, and Kauf will arrive in Pyeongchang as the points leader in moguls.

    Winning medals is never a given, but it's reasonable to be asking how many the U.S. will win, rather than if it will grab any at all.

Medal Predictions

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    Sergei Grits/Associated Press

    Projected Medal Tally (by country)

    United States: 6 (2 gold, 1 silver, 3 bronze)
    Canada: 5 (2 gold, 2 silver, 1 bronze)
    Sweden: 2 (2 gold)
    Belarus: 2 (1 gold, 1 silver)
    China: 2 (1 gold, 1 silver)
    Norway: 2 (1 gold, 1 silver)
    France: 2 (1 gold, 1 bronze)
    Switzerland
    : 2 (1 silver, 1 bronze)
    Australia: 2 (2 bronze)
    Germany: 1 (1 silver)
    Great Britain: 1 (1 silver)
    Kazakhstan: 1 (1 silver)
    Slovenia: 1 (1 bronze)
    Olympic Athletes from Russia: 1 (1 bronze)

    The U.S. and Canada are heavy favorites to earn the most medals, which isn't a surprise. Both countries could leave Pyeongchang with more hardware than projected, too.

    Seven countries securing at least one gold medal in freestyle skiing would set a new record for a single Winter Olympics.