PARK CITY, Utah – For those unfamiliar with freeskiing, the newest sport in a Winter Olympics desperate to up its cool factor, one of the 11 athletes named to the United States team on Saturday turned the euphoria of an upcoming trip to Sochi into a pretty slick sales pitch.
"This is by far the coolest sport ever invented, and I think everyone's going to be really excited and hyped when they see how cool we are," slopestyle skier Keri Herman said. "And also, we like to have the best time you can imagine. The most fun on the hill, the most fun off the hill."
Lest anyone forget that fun off the hill can get you kicked out of the Olympics, the freeskiing team nevertheless plans to hit the Sochi Games with the barrel of energy needed to succeed in both of the sport's disciplines, slopestyle and halfpipe, that were showcased here at Park City Mountain Resort in front of a large crowd all day Saturday.
Freeskiing takes the elements of snowboarding and instead puts the athletes on a pair of skis, encouraging the same sort of body- and mind-bending tricks that seem to defy physics. While Team USA won't be the favorite for Olympic gold in all of the freeskiing events, the expectation internally and externally is for at least one athlete to medal.
In men's slopestyle, a U.S. sweep isn't out of question. The three automatic bids to the team – Nick Goepper, Gus Kenworthy and Bobby Brown – rank 1-2-3 in the world rankings. And while 2013 world champion Tom Wallisch or 2011 champ Alex Schlopy could join the team with coach Mike Jankowski's discretionary pick, Torin Yater-Wallace, the high-flying 18-year-old who spent eight days in the hospital following a mid-December crash, is skiing again, and a good showing at next week's X Games could cinch him a spot.
Their women's slopestyle counterparts named two to the team: Herman and Devin Logan, who is hoping to get the discretionary pick in women's halfpipe and aim for a double medal. Coaches could add one or two women to the slopestyle team, including 15-year-old Maggie Voisin, who likely would be the youngest American athlete and one of the youngest at the Sochi Games.
Another high schooler, 17-year-old Aaron Blunck, joined Lyman Currier and world No. 1 David Wise on the men's halfpipe team. Noticeably absent was Simon Dumont, the innovator who helped freeski's rise – and tore his left ACL in a run Friday. It didn't stop him from completing a full run Saturday, thanks to the help of a brace and an insane pain threshold.
Yater-Wallace is ranked second in halfpipe and a contender there as well, though Currier, who won Saturday's Grand Prix here to qualify, may have the best story of the bunch. His father, David, raced for Team USA in the 1972 Sapporo Games in downhill and giant slalom as a 19-year-old. Now Lyman Currier, 19 as well, gets to wear the same uniform, albeit in a sport that didn't even exist when his dad was competing.
"It means so much to me,” Lyman Currier said. “Ever since freeskiing got named to be a new Olympic sport, it was my dream to get on the team and make my dad proud and follow in his footsteps. Hopefully, I can bring him home something nice."
Coaches can make one discretionary pick in both men's and women's halfpipe. Maddie Bowman, Brita Sigourney and Angeli VanLaanen, who overcame three lost years because of Lyme disease, fill out the women’s halfpipe team. On the minds of all three was Sarah Burke, like Dumont one of the sport's visionaries. Burke died Jan. 19, 2012, when she crashed during a training run in the same Eagle superpipe at Park City Mountain in which the qualifiers rode Saturday, nearly two years to the day of Burke's accident.
"She paved the way for us females, inspired so much creativity to be put into the sport but also inspired so many females to get into the sport," VanLaanen said. "Really want to honor her at the Olympics, bring her with me and do her proud."
- Sports & Recreation