'14 Need To Knows: Sochi's New Sports

By Paul D. Bowker | Feb. 25, 2013, 12:30 p.m. (ET)

Alex Schlopy goes airborne in the men's ski slopestyle elimination during Winter X Games Aspen 2013 at Buttermilk Mountain on Jan. 25, 2013, in Aspen, Colo.

Several athletes will be competing at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games in sports that will be making their Olympic debut. Back in 2011, the International Olympic Committee voted to include the following sports to the Olympic program: ski halfpipe (men and women), ski slopestyle (men and women) snowboard slopestyle (men and women), snowboard parallel slalom (men and women), women’s ski jumping, biathlon mixed relay, luge team relay and a figure skating team event. To make sure you are ready for the Winter Games, which begin less than a year from now — the Opening Ceremony in Sochi is set for Feb. 7, 2014 — here’s a primer on what’s new:

Dates of competition: Feb. 6, 8, 9, 2014
Olympic venue: Iceberg Skating Palace
The team figure skating competition will begin the day before the Opening Ceremony in Sochi, and will feature 10 teams in the opening short program. Each team will consist of a men’s and women’s single skater, a pairs team and an ice dancing team. After the first round of competition, the top five nations will advance to the free program. The competition will begin with the men’s and pairs short program Feb. 6, and the women’s and ice dancing short program Feb. 8. The 10 nations will be chosen following the end of the 2013 international season. Medaling in the team event will require strong performances in all four disciplines, and host Russia will be a strong contender.

Meryl Davis
and Charlie White, silver medalists at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games and five-time U.S. national champs, are virtually a lock in the ice dancing competition. Among women’s contenders include two-time national champion Ashley Wagner, 2013 U.S. silver medalist Gracie Gold and two-time U.S. bronze medalist Agnes Zawadzki. Caydee Denney (a 2010 Olympian) and her partner, John Coughlin, and 2013 U.S. champions Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir are contenders in pairs. The U.S. men’s participant will play a key role. Among contenders for that spot include 2010 Olympic gold medalist Evan Lysacek, two-time Olympian Johnny Weir, three-time national champ Jeremy Abbott and 2013 champion Max Aaron. The U.S. spots will be decided at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in January 2014.

Jessica Jerome competes during the FIS Ski Jumping World Cup
on Dec. 14, 2012, in Ramsau, Austria.

Date of competition: Feb. 11, 2014
Olympic venue: RusSki Gorki Jumping Center
Women’s ski jumping, already a World Cup discipline, will make its Olympic debut in Sochi. The sport was added to the Olympic program by the IOC in April 2011, causing delight by American ski jumpers present and past. The women’s event will be conducted in one day on the normal hill. (The men also compete in the large hill and in a team event.). The highest combined score for two jumps will determine the medal winners. Jumps are scored on distance and style.

U.S. women ski jumpers are ready for a memorable Olympic debut. Lindsey Van is a 15-time national champion who won gold in 2009 at the first world championships for women’s ski jumping. Sarah Hendrickson has already won at RusSki Gorki. She captured gold at the World Cup test event held there in December 2012. At 17, she was the inaugural World Cup champion in 2012, winning nine of 13 events. Other U.S. jumpers include Jessica Jerome, Alissa Johnson and Abby Hughes.

Date of competition: Feb. 13, 2014
Olympic venue: Sanki Sliding Centre
The team relay will consist of men’s singles, women’s singles and a doubles sled. After the racer in each segment crosses the finish line, he/she sits up and hits a touchpad, which releases the starting gate for the next segment. A nation’s time is recorded when an athlete in the doubles sled, the final segment, hits the touchpad. Germany’s strong luge team will likely be a favorite in this event. Germany won the team relay World Cup points championship in the 2012-13 season.

In what may have been a preview for the team relay in Sochi, 2010 Olympian Julia Clukey helped the United States earn a silver medal in the team relay at a World Cup event in February in Lake Placid, N.Y. Chris Mazdzer, a 2010 Olympian, raced in the men’s singles slot, and Matt Mortensen and Preston Griffall were in doubles. “To all come together and perform our best and get the silver medal is huge,” Clukey said. Other contenders may include two-time Olympian and 2009 world champion Erin Hamlin in women’s singles and Christian Niccum and Jayson Terdiman in doubles.

Date of competition: Feb. 19, 2014
Olympic venue: Laura Cross-country Ski & Biathlon Center
The mixed relay is in addition to the men’s and women’s relay events already in place. In the mixed relay, a team consists of two men and two women. The lowest combined times of all those racers will determine the medal winners. The men will race 7.5 kilometers, the women 6 kilometers. Each athlete will go to the shooting range to fire from prone and standing positions. As in the other relay events, athletes are allowed to hand load up to three extra rounds shooting stage to hit their targets. Penalty laps of 150 meters are assessed for each miss.

The likely favorites for the men’s side are Tim Burke, two-time Olympian Lowell Bailey and Leif Nordgren. Burke, a 2010 Olympian, has enjoyed a strong 2012-13 season, including earning a silver medal in the men’s 20km individual race earlier this month at the IBU World Championships. He was the first American to do so in 26 years. Top women include Susan Dunklee, the daughter of two-time Olympian Stan Dunklee; Sara Studebaker, a 2010 Olympian, and Annalies Cook. The United States contended for a mixed relay medal at the worlds, placing eighth. The team members were Cook, Dunklee, Bailey and Nordgren.

Dates of competition: Feb. 18 and 20, 2014
Olympic venue: Rosa Khutor Extreme Park
Instead of a halfpipe event with snowboarders, this one will be a halfpipe with freestyle skiers (although don’t worry, snowboard fans, there’ll be two days of snowboarding halfpipe, also). The competition will consist of preliminary and final rounds for men and women. The top 12 finishers from the preliminary round will advance to the finals, in which each skier will have two runs. The highest one-run scores determine the medal winners.

Torin Yater-Wallace
, 17, is likely to grab one of the four maximum spots the United States will have in skiing halfpipe. He won the AFP halfpipe world championship in 2012, won an X Games gold medal in France and earned silver in the superpipe at the 2013 X Games. Perhaps even more importantly, he won the halfpipe Olympic test event in February in Sochi. Gus Kenworthy placed second in Sochi. He is also a strong medal contender in slopestyle. Leading women medal contenders include Devin Logan, who was national runner-up in the halfpipe in 2009 at age 15. She had 12 podium finishes in 2012 and maintained a No. 1 overall ranking in AFP in both 2012 and 2011. She placed fifth in the halfpipe in the 2011 worlds in Park City, Utah. Logan and Yater-Wallace led an American sweep last summer in the opening Olympic qualifier held in New Zealand. Other top women include Maddie Bowman, Annalisa Drew and Emilia Wint.

Eric Willett competes during qualification for the men's FIS
Snowboard Slopestyle World Cup at the Sprint U.S. Snowboarding
Grand Prix on Jan. 9, 2013, in Copper Mountain, Colo.

Dates of skiing competition: Feb. 11 and 13, 2014
Dates of snowboarding competition: Feb. 6, 8, 9, 2014
Olympic venue: Rosa Khutor Extreme Park
Daredevil stunts on snowboards will begin early as the snowboarding slopestyle competition begins a three-day run Feb. 6, 2014, at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park. Slopestyle is one of two new snowbOarding disciplines. Slopestyle is also being introduced as a discipline into freestyle skiing. Slopestyle combines the magic of aerial and board stunts along with skiing, or snowboarding, a downhill course while also gliding aboard specially designed rails. The ultimate trick, of course, is not to crash. The Sochi course is expected to include three rails, three jumps and a combination feature that includes a rail and a jump.

All eyes will be on Shaun White, the king of snowboarding. He has won two Olympic gold medals in the halfpipe and is a 17-time X Games medalist. He began slopestyle boarding at age 6. Chas Guldemond, Eric Willett and Sage Kotsenburg are also vying for U.S. spots. Women slopestyle snowboarders include Ty Walker, Jessika Jenson and Jordie Karlinski. Jamie Anderson is an eight-time medalist at the Winter X Games. The medal contenders in skiing slopestyle will include Devin Logan and Keri Herman, who won a gold medal in slopestyle at a World Cup event in Argentina and silver at the Winter X Games. Ten were named to the inaugural U.S. Freeskiing Slopestyle Pro Team in November, including Logan, Herman, world gold medalist Alex Schlopy, X Games gold medalist Sammy Carlson and Dew Tour winner Tom Wallisch.

Date of skiing competition: Feb. 22, 2014
Olympic venue: Rosa Khutor Extreme Park
In this men’s and women’s competition, two snowboarders race side-to-side on a course featuring gates that they must maneuver around. The first boarder to the finish line wins the race.

When it comes to parallel slalom, there is one key U.S. name to know: Justin Reiter. The two-time U.S. national team member placed second in the parallel slalom at the 2013 worlds in Stoneham, Canada. A Sochi preview for the parallel slalom was canceled in February due to warm weather conditions at a World Cup event.

Story courtesy Red Line Editorial, Inc. Paul D. Bowker is a freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org. This story was not subject to the approval of any National Governing Bodies.