|(L-R) 2010 Olympic bobsledder Chuck Berkeley; 2002 Olympic
figure skating champion Sarah Hughes; 2006 Olympic figure skater
Emily Hughes; 2014 Olympic hopeful freeskiers Tom Wallisch and
NEW YORK -- Apple (AAPL), Microsoft (MSFT) and Intel (INTC) are just a few of the volatile technology titans that trade on NASDAQ, where financial dreams are launched and, sometimes, crash to earth.
The all-electronic stock exchange has seen its share of wild rides, with stocks rising and falling like missiles, but it’s got nothing on slopestyle, a pace-quickening sport where skiers and snowboarders twist, flip and fly off ramps and boxes on courses.
So it was fitting when top contenders in slopestyle skiing, one of 12 new events debuting at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games, visited NASDAQ’s Times Square headquarters to ring the closing bell Monday in honor of the one-year countdown to Sochi.
Keri Herman, who owns four X Games medals, is thrilled with slopestyle’s addition to the Olympic program.
“There’s so much excitement in the sport right now,” Herman said. “It’s where all the kids want to play. They ask me, ‘How do you train?’ And I say, ‘No, I play, it’s just fun.’ It keeps you young.”
Ringing the closing bell was the end of a busy day for Herman, who appeared on NBC’s Today show that morning and, together with fellow slopestyler Tom Wallisch, tried out a mock course in Rockefeller Center, complete with truckloads of snow from the Killington Resort in Vermont.
At NASDAQ, Herman was joined by two other Olympic hopefuls: Wallisch, who last month won slopestyle gold at the Winter X Games in Aspen, and bobsledder Chuck Berkeley, a 2010 Olympian.
They were joined by three figure skaters: 2002 Olympic gold medalist Sarah Hughes and her sister, Emily, a 2006 Olympian; and 2006 Olympic silver medalist Sasha Cohen.
Herman thinks that while the sport already has some great championships, including the X Games, Euro X Games and stops on the Dew tour, the Olympic Winter Games will be something special.
“Some of my best friends are the people I ski with, no matter what country they’re from, and it will be a really cool experience for us to go to the Olympics together, all for the very first time,” she said.
“I was with a bunch of girls when women’s slopestyle was in the X Games for the very first time, and to experience that with them was a whole other level,” she added. “The Olympics is going to be so exciting in the same way.”
Figure skating has been part of the Olympic Games since 1908, but Sochi will add a team event, where skaters from the top 10 figure skating countries, in all likelihood including the United States, will compete in a team format.
Sarah Hughes thinks the United States has a good chance at a team medal, perhaps gold. The Olympic champion was in Omaha, Neb., last month for the 2013 U.S. Figure Skating Championships commentating for icenetwork.com and saw the country’s top talent firsthand.
“I was really impressed, especially by the ladies,” Hughes said. “We had some really strong performances.”
Not only was Hughes impressed by Ashley Wagner, who became the first woman to win back-to-back national titles since Michelle Kwan in 2005, but also with 17-year-old Gracie Gold, who made her senior-level nationals debut in Omaha.
“Gracie was just beyond, she was so strong,” Hughes said. “No question that she was at the top of the competition, along with (newly crowned U.S. men’s champion) Max Aaron, who is unbelievable. Between Max and Gracie and all that other talent, I feel really good about our chances.”
While Cohen agrees there is a lot of new talent in the U.S. figure skating ranks, her favorite is a familiar face: Evan Lysacek, the reigning Olympic champion who won gold in Vancouver three years ago.
Lysacek had hoped to compete at the 2013 U.S. Championships, but surgery for a sports hernia in November derailed those plans. In Omaha, he told reporters he is already back on the ice, doing some of his triple jumps, and is in the gym four hours a day preparing for a competitive comeback next season and a try at Sochi.
“He has the strongest mind and willpower of any athlete I’ve ever met,” Cohen, a student at Columbia University, said. “With him leading the men’s team we will have a very strong competitor.”
The skaters the United States can count on most, in both the team event and for an individual medal, are five-time ice dance champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White, who won the world title in 2011 and the Olympic silver medal in 2010.
“It’s amazing to see how long they’ve stayed so great and been so composed, and represented the sport so well,” Cohen said.
All three skaters said the same thing: ice is slippery, and nothing is certain. Cohen had some words of wisdom for athletes in all sports seeking to qualify for Sochi.
“Sochi is still a year away; you don’t want to count your chickens before they hatch,” she said. “At the same time, you have to have self confidence. You have to take it day by day and not focus on the big picture, but still believe in yourself.”