SOCHI 2014

'14 Need To Knows: Freestyle Skiing

By Paul D. Bowker | Dec. 02, 2013, 10 a.m. (ET)
Emily Cook competes in women's aerials at the FIS Freestyle Ski World Cup on Feb. 1, 2013 in Park City, Utah.

Donna Weinbrecht performs in women's moguls during the world
championships on Feb. 8, 1997 in Nagano, Japan.

Mogul and aerial skiing are grouped together in the category of freestyle skiing and both were included as demonstration sports in Calgary in 1988. Moguls became a medal sport in the Winter Games in 1992 in Albertville, and two years later, in Lillehammer, aerials were added to the Olympic Winter Games program. Although these sports are relatively new Olympic events, Americans quickly became a force, beginning in 1992 when Donna Weinbrecht won the moguls gold. Nelson Carmichael added a bronze medal for Team USA that year. Team USA did not win Olympic medals in aerials until 1998, but made up for lost time as Eric Bergoust and Nikki Stone both won gold medals in Nagano. Team USA has had several medalists since and is hoping more of its athletes will reach the podium at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games.

THE MEDALS

Four sets of medals will be handed out in freestyle skiing at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games, making a total of 12 medals (men’s moguls and aerials and women’s moguls and aerials). The United States won four medals in three events at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games, including gold by Hannah Kearney in women’s moguls. No other nation won as many freestyle skiing medals in Vancouver. Also earning medals in freestyle skiing in the 2010 Winter Games were Shannon Bahrke (bronze, moguls), Jeret “Speedy” Peterson (silver, aerials) and Bryon Wilson (bronze, moguls).

HANNAH KEARNEY: AIMING FOR GOLD AGAIN

 
Hannah Kearney skis during the FIS Freestyle Ski World
Championship dual moguls on March 8, 2013 in Voss, Norway.

A two-time Olympian from Vermont, Hannah Kearney clearly has established herself as the top women’s moguls freestyle skier in the world. The defending Olympic gold medalist, Kearney is a three-time world cup overall champion in women’s moguls and won the world championship in March in Voss, Norway. Kearney has been so dominant in the sport that her consecutive winning streak of 16 in world cup competition in 2011 and 2012 set a record for the longest win streak in any skiing discipline in FIS World Cups. Her list of world championship gold medals dates back to 2005 when she was 18. She made her Olympic debut at the Torino 2006 Olympic Winter Games, where she finished 22nd in women’s moguls.

“No one in the sport of freestyle skiing has won two gold medals, so that’s my aim,” Kearney recently said to NBC. “Anything can happen in sport, but I’m training hard.”

THE WILSON BROTHERS

The brothers who fly fish together ski together. And if the qualification results fall just right, Bryon and Bradley Wilson might both be on the U.S. Olympic Team as members of the men’s moguls squad. Bryon, who is four years older than Bradley, earned a bronze medal in men’s moguls at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games and has a strong shot of making the 2014 U.S. Olympic Team. Bradley had an impressive 2012-13 season, medaling four times on the FIS World Cup circuit and winning a gold medal in Inawashiro, Japan. The start of the 2013-14 season dealt Bradley Wilson a tough blow. He suffered a contusion to his right lung during a training crash in August in Chile. Bryon Wilson, coming off ACL reconstruction surgery, won his first world cup event in Kreischberg, Austria. The brothers, who hail from Butte, Mont., both have won junior world championship titles.

MOGULS MUSCLE

The United States has built up its moguls muscles internationally. Led by Kearney’s gold medal, Team USA won three of six moguls medals at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games. Three-time Olympian Shannon Bahrke (now retired) claimed a bronze in the women’s moguls and Bryon Wilson also earned a bronze medal in the men’s competition. At the Torino 2006 Olympic Winter Games, the United States won just one moguls medal. The U.S. moguls team also won the 2012 Nations Cup title. In addition to Kearney and Wilson, who hope to return to the Winter Games in February, other Team USA medal contenders for Sochi are Heather McPhie, Pat Deneen, Jeremy Cota and Bradley Wilson, all world cup podium finishers. The history of strong U.S. moguls teams goes back to the Albertville 1992 Olympic Winter Games, when Donna Weinbrecht won gold in the inaugural Olympic women’s moguls event.

A-PLUS AERIALS

In addition to a strong moguls team, the U.S. aerials team will be expecting strong performances in Sochi. Among the leaders of that group are 2010 Olympian Ashley Caldwell, two-time Olympian Emily Cook, and 2010 Olympian Scotty Bahrke and Dylan Ferguson.

BAHRKE CARRIES ON FAMILY LEGACY

Scotty Bahrke trains in men's aerials at the Visa Freestyle
International on Feb. 3, 2012 in Park City, Utah.

The Olympic legacy in the Bahrke family now falls to men’s aerials skier Scotty Bahrke. His sister, Shannon, is a three-time Olympian and finished her international career by earning a bronze medal at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games. While Shannon was a moguls whiz, Scotty turned his full-time attention to aerials in 2005. Just two years later, he was the world cup rookie of the year in men’s aerials, and in 2010, he made his first U.S. Olympic Team. He won his first World Cup event in February 2012 in Austria. This time, Shannon, also a 2002 Olympic silver medalist, could be a cheering onlooker.

GYMNASTICS TO AERIALS

Eleven years of gymnastics is paying off for U.S. aerials skier Ashley Caldwell, who will seek her second Olympic appearance in Sochi. She placed 10th in women’s aerials at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games. Caldwell was a gymnast in Virginia when she watched Olympic skiing on TV in 2006 and decided that she wanted to give aerial freestyle skiing a try. After just three years of training, she made the national team in 2010 at age 16, finished among the top 15 at her first three world cup competitions and made the U.S. Olympic Team. A knee injury in early 2012 put Caldwell on the sidelines, but she is expected to be positioned for another run at the Winter Games in 2014.

DATES TO REMEMBER

Freestyle skiing competition will begin Feb. 6, the day before the Opening Ceremony. The first event is women’s moguls, which will be held Feb. 6 and 8. The men’s moguls competition will be held Feb. 10, followed by the women’s aerials Feb. 14 and men’s aerials Feb. 17.

THE VENUE

All freestyle skiing events will be held at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park. Snowboarding and freeskiing also will be held at Rosa Khutor. The competition venue, which will have a spectator capacity of 8,000 for freestyle skiing, is located west of the Rosa Khutor area that will be used for alpine skiing. The venue has been host to a number of test events beginning in March 2012, including an FIS Freestyle Skiing World Cup in February 2013 and an FIS Snowboard World Cup in March 2013.

TEAM USA SELECTIONS

Aerial and moguls freestyle skiers will qualify for Sochi based on their performances at FIS world cup events between July 1, 2012, and Jan. 19, 2014. U.S. skiers are vying for a total 26 spots for freestyle skiing and freeskiing events. Athletes are eligible for selection to the Olympic team if they earn a top-30 finish at a FIS World Cup or world championships event in the qualification period. Up to four U.S. skiers can compete in each of the Olympic disciplines.

BEWARE THE BUMPS

In moguls skiing, the tricks and the jumps are the thing. Athletes race down a course and are required to perform two tricks and jumps on each run. The more challenging they are, the higher the score. The course includes a series of gates. Mistakes are costly because the Olympic format includes just a one-run elimination round. The final round also is a one-run format with the skiers receiving the highest score for tricks and jumps winning the medals. Judges score on the quality of a skier’s tricks, and on the quality and difficulty of jumps. Speed is also rewarded.

HIGH INTO THE AIR

The wow factor plays big in the men’s and women’s aerials competition. The preliminary round in Sochi will consist of two jumps. The top 12 athletes advance to the finals, which also will consist of two jumps. Scores from the preliminaries will not carry over to the finals. Judges score on jump form (50 percent), landing (30 percent) and takeoff (20 percent).

TWISTING AND FLIPPING

The aerials and moguls competitions have their own set of terminology and much of it involves twisting and flipping while in the air. Think of it as Olympic divers on skis. A lay-full-tuck routine includes a triple flip, followed by a second flip with a twist, then finishing with a tuck and a landing. A lay-full-full includes a double-twisting triple flip. A half-full-half jump consists of three flips with half-twists on the first and third flips, and a full twist on the second flip. Oh, and don’t try this at home.

THE SKIS AND POLES

In moguls, the length of the skis is usually about 180 centimeters for men and 170 centimeters for women. In aerials, the skis for both men and women are about 160 centimeters. Ski poles are used to help an athlete pick up speed, turn effectively and maintain balance.

Paul D. Bowker has been writing about Olympic sports since 1990 and was Olympic assistant bureau chief for Morris Communications at the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games. He also writes about Olympic sports for the Springfield (Mass.) Republican. Bowker has written for TeamUSA.org since 2010 as a freelance contributor on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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