Winter Olympics XXIV: Introduction to the Games

Winter Olympics XXIV: Introduction to the Games

Once considered a niche sport, freeskiing has been thrust into the global spotlight since its Olympic debut in 2014. The Sochi Games marked the first time the slopestyle and halfpipe disciplines were showcased in the Winter Olympics. And, boy, did Team USA make a statement, delivering a podium sweep in the men’s slopestyle event. For only the third time in Winter Olympic history, U.S. athletes went one-two-three in one event, with Joss Christensen claiming gold, followed by Gus Kenworthy and Nick Goepper. And American pipemasters, David Wise and Maddie Bowman, captured gold in the halfpipe competitions. The Americans made another strong showing at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games, with Goepper grabbing a silver, Wise defending his gold and countryman Alex Ferreira less than a point behind him with a silver. Meanwhile, Brita Sigourney took home a bronze in freeski pipe.

The freeskiing action that will be on display at the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing is going to be next-level for multiple reasons. First, there’s been an explosion of talent in the last few years. Those winning tricks from 2014 now seem like staples in every athlete’s toolkit. No one does the same trick the same way anymore. “There used to be 10 or 12 guys to watch and now you can’t underestimate anyone,” says U.S. Slopestyle Pro Team Head Coach Skogen Sprang. “It’s going to take someone really well-rounded to win [slopestyle]. They have to be creative with their rail tricks and pull off the most cutting-edge big jump tricks with perfect grabs and landings.”

Second, the U.S. men’s slopestyle and halfpipe teams are two of the deepest in the world. Veterans like Wise and Ferreira are back and hungry for more medals, while reigning halfpipe world champion Aaron Blunck is eyeing his first Olympic podium finish. Teammates Hunter Hess and Birk Irving have been proving they’re also serious contenders with outstanding performances in 2020. On the women’s side, slopestyle veterans Brita Sigourney and Devin Logan, and halfpipe queen Sigourney, are mentoring some exciting young talent.

And third, Big Air is making its first Olympic appearance and while Covid might prevent concert-like crowds, the venue is still a showstopper. If you qualify for slopestyle, you get to compete in Big Air as well, and based on early season competitions, athletes like France’s Tess Ledeux, Austria’s Matěj Švancer and Sarah Hoefflin of Switzerland are pushing the limits in terms of both amplitude and creativity. ​​

“The freeski events are going to deliver some serious surprises,” predicts Mike Jankowski, United States Olympic Head Coach for Snowboarding and Freeskiing Teams. “The pace of progression I’ve seen in international competition, even in the past month, is unreal. Athletes are definitely preparing to lay it all out in Beijing.”

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