Imagine free skiing at the Olympics. Listen to the top candidates for the U.S. team talk about the day when the sport makes its debut in Sochi and it sounds like a whole new world.
"None of us grew up going to the Olympics," says Tom Wallisch, the slopestyle gold medalist at the X Games in 2012 and world championships in Voss, Norway earlier this year. Wallisch learned his sport in an urban setting, on the rails of Pittsburgh. "When you got into the sport, you had the X Games and the Dew Tour," he says. "A lot of people in other sports, they dream of going to the Olympics. We never had that dream. It's blowing my mind every day."
The Olympic novelty spans the age gap within the sport. Torin Yater-Wallace was credited with being the first man to land a switch 1800 jump in competition last year. The 17-year old began his career as a moguls skier. "I never really watched moguls in the Olympics," Yater-Wallace says. "With our sport it's pretty crazy. I never really expected this. Being presented with this Olympic opportunity is pretty amazing. It's nothing I ever considered before. It's a much higher scale."
At 27, Simon Dumont is considered a greybeard in his sport. He won gold in the superpipe at the X Games in Aspen in 2004. That's nine years ago, about three lifetimes in non-freeskier years.
"It's fun to see the sport in its infancy going from where it was to the Olympics," he says. "We never thought about going to the gym. We never thought about going to the Olympics. We never thought about coaches. We're a legit sport now." Dumont has always been a risk-taker. Check out the video of his jump-gone-wrong in Park City when he was 18. Dumont fell 800 feet, ruptured his spleen and fractured his pelvis, yet after his injury, he reveled in the freedom of freeskiing.
"When I was younger people told me, 'Oh you should go to the Olympics for gymnastics.' It wasn't for me," he says. "There were too many restraints ... I've been a skier my entire life and I've done well without the Olympics. But I want to go there. I want to be on that stage. If we're giving up some freedom to have that opportunity, I'm willing to do that. I accept that tradeoff."
Aerialist Patrick Dineen is trying to make up for lost Olympic time. Dineen crashed on his second run at the Vancouver Olympics, finishing 19th, but the 2009 world champ is back in form at 25, after bronze medals at worlds in both the moguls and dual moguls events earlier this year. Dineen always has his source of inspiration. "I channel Jonny Moseley," he says. "He was the man, the human shock absorber." Moseley was the Olympic champ at the Nagano Games in 1998 and was known for his trick called The Dinner Roll.
"I'm not that talented in the air," admits Dineen, who usually make up time by outskiiing people over the moguls. "If I can sort of harness what Jonny did, there's always a chance my skiing can carry me."
Who says figure skaters don't play hurt? Caydee Denney arrived in Park City, Utah this week with two stitches on her chin, the result of some strength training gone wrong. "I had a fight with the cross-fit machine," Denney says. "I lost."
That's a small mark compared to the recovery that her pairs partner, John Coughlin, has had to undergo. Coughlin had surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left hip last December. He and Denney, defending national champions, had petitioned their way onto the world team but chose not to compete. "You feel kind of guilty," Coughlin says. "Your partner is ready to go and you hate to hold her back. We need to make the most of this year, because you can't tell about the future." Denney is 20 and Coughlin is 27. He placed sixth at worlds in 2011 with his previous partner, Caitlin Yankowskas.
Time may be ticking for Evan Lysacek, the Olympic champion figure skater who has not competed since winning the Vancouver Games and is now battling both injury and time. Lysacek announced this week that he was withdrawing from Skate America later this month in Detroit. Though he still has time to recover before the U.S. Championships in Boston in January, Lysacek must still post a minimum score at an ISU international event. "I wouldn't be coming back if I didn't think I could do this," he said. And if I thought it would be easy, I'd be kidding myself."
Lysacek offered some perspective on his longtime coach Frank Carroll, who just recently began working with U.S. world team member Gracie Gold in California. "When I started working with Frank (after he graduated from high school in 2003)," says Lysacek, 28, "we had a 20-minute session and he told me I couldn't speak at all during the session. If I had a question, I would have to write it down and give it to him before practice that next day."
According to Gold, 18, the new Carroll has mellowed. "Frank is a great teacher, but I have a 40-minute lesson with him, and -- sorry Evan -- he's very open to answering questions about how to put the best programs together. He's so good because you get more out of every minute with Frank than you could with anyone else."
USOC Chairman Larry Probst told reporters this week that discussions about bidding for a summer Olympics in 2024 are down to fewer than 10 U.S. cities. Probst said that the USOC wanted to have decisions made both about whether to bid and which city to submit by the end of 2014. Probst also said he was pleased with wrestling's reinstatement onto the sports program, but also noted the strong presentations at the IOC session for both squash and baseball/softball. As a new IOC member, himself, Probst said he hoped new President Thomas Bach would consider lifting the quota on summer sports from the current maximum of 28. "Our hope is that with a new president in place, consideration will be given to adding new sports to the program," Probst said.