|Jen Hudak skis in the halfpipe finals of the FIS Freestyle
World Cup at the VISA U.S. Freeskiing Grand Prix on Dec. 9,
2011, in Copper Mountain, Colo.
|Steve Mesler is a three-
time Olympian and 2010
Olympic gold medalist
in four-man bobsled.
Women’s halfpipe skiing is evolving. Jen Hudak understands that more than most. She’s been soaring over the edge of the world’s halfpipes since the inception of the sport into the World Cup scene. She’s also watched as the sport has evolved to include the buzz and insanity of Olympic competition.
Besides enjoying impressive longevity, Jen has accomplished what no other woman in her sport has been able to: five X Games medals, three U.S. Championship titles, two world championship medals, and even an ESPY nomination for “Best Female Action Sports Athlete”!
With less than a year to go until the Olympic Winter Games are hosted in the Russian Black Sea resort city of Sochi, Jen has just arrived back at her home in Salt Lake City. She’s jetlagged after the World Cup test event was held in Sochi and still recovering from a knee injury that has made this season more challenging than most.
It has always been interesting to me to talk to athletes from the other sports. A long time ago, we used to spend more time together and we’d learn about what each other did. These days, unless we happen to pass each other on the Autobahn at 125 mph, there’s little contact between sports. I love to hear about their struggles, their methods and what keeps them going.
I decided I wanted to hear a bit about Jen’s take on the evolution of her sport, how she prepares for her events (a subject I’ll ask many athletes about), and what success is meaning to her these days.
So without further ado, let’s hear from Jen…
How long have you been competing at the World Cup level and how have you seen your sport evolve in that time period now that it’s been added to the Olympic Winter Games?
I've been competing in halfpipe World Cups since 2003, which was when the first ski halfpipe World Cup was introduced.
So you were about 7 years old?
Right, 4 1/2 actually. No, I was 15 or 16 I think. And it's gone through a few evolutions I would say. Five or six years ago, I was attending World Cups pretty regularly – from 2003 probably until about 2009. And then they kind of tapered off – countries weren't hosting them as much, or events in the (United) States were getting bigger. We had things like the Dew Tour, the X Games and lots of open events taking off. And really, that was where our sport was growing the most.
In 2010, ski cross was added into the Olympics and not ski halfpipe. I think largely that's because skier cross is far more popular in Europe than it is in the United States.
The Olympics like to see sports with a lot of international diversity. We didn't quite have that at the time (in ski halfpipe) and the depth of field wasn't quite there.
At this point, it's definitely ready to be in the Olympics. But you notice it is a different style, it's a different caliber of athlete sometimes that is competing.
In what way do you mean a different caliber of athlete competing?
Well, we're used to being at events with mainly the best North American athletes. The X Games, for example, is an invite-only contest so you're immediately put with the best women. Often times it's the bigger name athletes. World Cups have a much higher quota per country – so you can have a ton of athletes from all over.
|Jen answers your questions on Twitter via Skype|
Now, especially that it's in the Olympics, a lot of the smaller countries that wouldn't be able to do well on a Dew Tour or an X Games can go to this World Cup event and have a shot at being an Olympian and representing their country. It's really cool to see. I knew it was growing – but this year has really made me aware of just how much.
So it's increasing the quantity of athlete competing, but is it impacting the quality? Are the top 10 athletes pretty much still the same or has it injected new athletes?
The top 10 athletes are still pretty similar as they’ve been the last few years. But quality comes in time and I think quality is often driven by quantity, especially on the women's side of things. For the men, there's been a lot of guys doing this sport for a long time. On the woman's side we haven't seen as much participation; I think partially because it's a super dangerous sport. Without a big enough carrot like potentially being able to call yourself an Olympian, it's hard to get people to really want to get involved.
At the Park City World Cup here this year, we had 41 women and 16 nations represented!
So that kind of blew my mind; it was a lot.
And it wasn't just 41 girls that were barely making it down the halfpipe. The top 25 women were all really strong skiers. So I think it's coming with time. The quality will definitely be affected in time.
We see that in women's bobsled. It went, and is still going through, that same evolution. It was only added in 2002, and it has a lot less access than you do.
There is a lot of access, but it's hard because there's much less access to halfpipes than slopestyle courses. I feel like we've seen a little more progression on the women's slopestyle side of things than we have on the pipe side. But again, I think it'll just come in time.
That makes sense. I live in Calgary and five minutes away from my house is a halfpipe. That being said, five-and-a-half minutes away from my house is a bobsled track...so...
Yeah - you can't quite use that comparatively!