Vancouver freestyle skiing preview
This high-flying, acrobatic sport, added to the program in 1994, is probably the most awe-inspiring Olympic event -- winter or summer. Picking up speed down a hill, skiers take off a massive ramp that sends them some 60 feet into the air, where they twist, turn, and flip with the grace of gymnasts, before landing on a snow-covered downhill incline. Yeah, it looks even harder than it sounds.
With all the air and the incredible tricks, it's an absolutely breathtaking sport to watch. Now in its fifth Games, the jumps are reaching extreme levels of difficulty. A handful of male athletes, for instance, are thought to be prepping a quintuple-twisting triple backflip, the most difficult jump allowed in international competition. That's three back flips with five full twists, and all with a snowsuit on and a pair of skis strapped to their feet. Even if you can't respect the skills, you really can't deny their courage.
Apart from St. Onge, who is still working his way to qualifying for the Games,
China owned the top four spots in the World Cup standings this season and will enter Vancouver as favorites, maybe to even sweep the entire podium. The Chinese aerialists, many of whom were formally trained gymnasts, have unparalleled acrobatic skills. "I wont be really threatened by the foreign skiers at the Winter Games," Li told China's
A quick primer on the jump lingo: A back-lay is a flip with no twists. A Full is doing one twist during one flip. A Double Full is doing two twists in the course of one flip. A Triple Full is doing three twists in one flip. So, a Full-Double Full-Full, known as The Daddy, means the skier does a total of four twists and three flips, cramming in two rotations during the second flip. Ever wonder why the skiers usually wear white? The contrast to the night sky makes it easier for the judges to make out the lines of their bodies.
Bouncing down the hill like Plinko chips, skiers speed down a bumpy course that breaks twice so that they can perform trick jumps. Combining skillful skiing with a dash of flashiness, moguls has new-school appeal, as evidenced by its distinct X Games feel and the fact that rock music is pumped during runs. Scores take into account the quality of the turns through the moguls, the two jumps and the time it takes to get down the course. As in aerials, the athletes are looking forward to pushing the difficulty level of tricks, like off-axis jumps and more complicated flips.
Kearney leads a deep women's team that also includes
The Vancouver homecoming for Begg-Smith may not be so warm, considering the Canadian-born skier left his home country for Australia as a teenager in part to join a more relaxed ski program Down Under and chose not to ski for Canada. In a sense turning his back on his country, Begg-Smith has all the trappings to play the villain here. (To boot, he is a multi-millionaire who earned his fortune as a teenager reportedly creating Internet pop-up software and spyware, to the annoyance of millions worldwide.) The dashing, young Bilodeau, of course, plays the hero. The Quebec native has won seven World Cup events, including last year's Olympic preview at Cypress Mountain.
If you think the U.S. women are accomplished on the course,
The only new event added to the program this year, ski cross pits four skiers against each other in a simple race to the bottom, last-one-down-is-a-rotten-egg style. The success of snowboard cross in Turin -- with its banks, rollers, turns and, of course, jumps -- makes ski cross a surefire crowd-pleaser, and the added novelty of it being the new event in town makes it worth having a look. The course at Cypress Mountain promises a lot of air for the skiers, and with that, a greater chance to see some epic wipeouts and collisions. And if you reminisce about the good old days of alpine skiing, the days before
The U.S. team is two-men deep:
Rahlves has gotten into the habit of running through the course with a helmet-cam on. He posts the videos on his