February 3, 2006
Rockin' in the freestyle world
GEORGE GROSS -- Toronto Sun

The Canadian freestyle sport has a history similar to hockey -tops in the world.

The statement was made by Peter Judge, the chief executive officer of the Canadian Freestyle Skiing Association and a former coach.

"Thanks to the excellent facilities we have in Canada, our competitors are right there on top, just like our hockey team," said Judge. "Our competitors are working very hard and, you could say, they are involved in the sport six days a week.

"They do weight training, water ramping and skiing on snow whether it's at Whistler in British Columbia, or Europe, or Australia. At any rate, wherever there is snow. If they combine dry land training and water ramping it could take up to 6-8 hours some days.

The results are showing even now in pre-Turin events and our moguls are very successful as well. We should come away from Turin with some medals."

Think about this if you want o be an aerial freestyle skier: you'll need to ski down a hill at approximately 60 kilometres per hour (40 mph), hit a 13-foot ramp, soar about 50 feet in the air and perform two or three flips and/or up to five twists in mid-air before landing on a steep landing hill.

If you want to be a moguls freestyle skier, all you have to do is hurtle down a steep ski slope constantly going over moguls (bumps) and twice taking off from a six-foot ramp to do an aerial manoeuvre.

Either way, you'd have to be nuts to voluntarily go into the sport of freestyle skiing. Yet the sport, which was on the brink of extinction in the United States (largely due to the number of paralyzing injuries sustained and the subsequent lawsuits against resorts), is now one of the most popular spectator sports at the Winter Olympics.

Freestyle skiing had its roots in Norway in the 1930s when skiers began using ski acrobatics as part of their alpine and cross-country training. Soon, professional skiing exhibitions began to appear in the United States using the techniques of modern freestyle skiing.

Originally called "hot dog skiing" in North America due to the nature of the skiers involved, the sport evolved dramatically.

To try and put a measure of control and safety into the sport, the International Ski Federation (ISF) recognized freestyle skiing as a sport in 1979 and brought in new regulations regarding certification of athletes and jump techniques.

The first World Cup series was staged in 1980 and the first World Championships took place in 1986 in Tignes, France.

Freestyle skiing was introduced to the Winter Olympics as a demonstration sport in 1988 at Calgary. Mogul skiing was added to the official Olympic program at the Albertville Games in 1992 while aerials was officially added in 1994 at Lillehammer.

At the inaugural moguls event in 1992 (Albertville, France), Edgar Grospiron led France to a 1-2-4 finish in the men's event. Ecstatic local fans then broke through security fences to carry their gold medal hero around on their shoulders.

In 1995, Canada established its own governing body, the Canadian Freestyle Ski Association. There are now over 50 freestyle ski clubs across the country.

THE SPORT

The two Olympic events are aerials and moguls for both men and women.

Aerials is not for the faint of heart. Aerialists will perform triple-back somersaults with up to five twists, landing on a steep landing hill most people would be nervous just skiing down.

Competitors must perform two different jumps consisting of single or multiple somersaults with or without twists. Each jump must vary by one somersault or one twist. Points are awarded for takeoff (20% of score), form in the air (50% of score) and landing (30% of score). Scores of both jumps are added together.

The Olympic aerial format consists of a two-jump qualification followed by a two-jump final.

The combined scores from the two jumps in the qualification round determine who qualifies for the finals, with 12 men and 12 women advancing to the finals. Scores from the qualification round do not carry over to the finals.

New rules in moguls have changed the sport with the introduction of 'off axis' and inverted jumps and the removal of restrictions that will allow for an increased in the variety of manoeuvres in competition.

Competitors speed down the 29-degree mogul course and launch themselves off two jumps on the way down and are judged by a panel of seven judges. Marks are awarded for the technical quality of the skier's turns (50%), the two upright aerial manoeuvres (25%) and speed (25%). While speed is a factor, the fastest skier across the finish line does not necessarily win.

The Olympic format is a one-run elimination round followed by a one-run final. In the finals, competitors ski in the reverse order of their finish in the qualification round. The skier with the highest score in the final round wins.

Frankly, I'll be quite happy to watch it on television.

TRAINING

For aerials, perhaps the best pre-training that can be done is gymnastics and/or diving. This provides the freestyle skier with the necessary somersaulting and twisting ability. Then, training jumps are done down a hill into a pool of water until the jump is confidently executed and then it is incorporated into the competition conditions.

Weight training is a must to provide the explosive power needed for strong takeoffs.

OLYMPIC GOLDS

1998

AERIALS

MEN: Andreas Schonbachler (SUI)

WOMEN: Lina Cheryazova (UZB)

MOGULS

MEN: Jean-Luc Brassard (CAN)

WOMEN: Stine Lise Hattestad (NOR)

2002

AERIALS

MEN: Ales Valenta (CZE)

WOMEN: Alisa Camplin (AUS)

MOGULS:

MEN: Janne Lahtela (FIN)

WOMEN: Kari Traa (NOR)

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DID YOU KNOW?

Former Olympic gold medallist Alisa Camplin of Australia trained by landing in a leech-infested pond in her homeland!

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TOMORROW: Skeleton