Featuring a mass start of four skiers racing against each other through a steep and winding course of rolling terrain, ski cross is another exciting addition to the 2010 Olympic Winter Games program. “We here at the FIS Freestyle Committee are very excited about the development of ski cross and having it at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games as part of the ongoing development of our sport. This is an eight-year project meant to constantly re-invigourate freestyle, and has caused a great amount of interest within the ski community. We can’t wait to put on a great show in Vancouver in 2010.”
As Vancouver 2010 gears up to host the debut of this new Olympic Winter Games event, it’s intriguing to look back at the rise of freestyle skiing. “Freestyle started as three events [moguls, aerials and acroski – also known as ballet skiing] that you had to perform in one run, on one pair of skis,” says former freestyle skier and former aerial and acroski national coach Todd Allison.
Beginning as demonstration events during the Calgary 1988 Olympic Winter Games, the freestyle events quickly drew an international following and a wide-ranging television audience. Moguls went on to become a full medal event at the Albertville 1992 Winter Games, with aerials following at the Lillehammer Games in 1994. With the growth in popularity of freestyle events came the need for athletes to specialize in a discipline of choice. “Once Calgary hit, it really forced the athletes to focus and specialize, and it brought a bunch of different artists with different specialties,” states Allison.
Allison has many fond memories of the introduction of his sport to the Olympic Winter Games. “As a combined freestyle skier, I started before it was even on the Games radar. Then freestyle became an FIS event and an Olympic demonstration event and that was very exciting. And then, all of a sudden, I had this possibility to go the Olympic Winter Games in my home town of Calgary.” Ultimately, while Allison missed the cut for the Calgary 1988 and Albertville 1992 Olympic Games, he remained on the Canadian national team until 1994, before switching to coaching.
Over the years, disciplines like acroski have come and gone from the Olympic Games roster as participation fluctuated. Speed skiing (1992), ice stock sport (1936 and 1964) and skijoring (1928) have all been tested as demonstration sports, but never became full-time sports. On the flip side, sports like curling have bounced back to remain a part of the Games tradition, included in the 1924, 1932, 1988 and 1992 Olympic Winter Games before becoming a permanent medal event in 1998, in Nagano.
In 1985, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) decided to eliminate demonstration sports from all Olympic Games after 1996. Currently, winter sports must conform to the Olympic Charter and be played in 25 countries over three continents before they’re considered for the Olympic Games roster. Taking this tack has enabled new Olympic Games sports to develop larger grassroots followings, in more countries, internationally.
Freestyle not only continues to evolve with the addition of new disciplines to the Winter Games, it also continues to change because of the Olympic spotlight. “At the Olympic level, today there is a lot more profile and motivation for sponsors and governments to get behind the sports and athletes,” says Allison, who believes this support also brings with it a new level of safety and skill. “Otherwise you have independent people training out there without the proper support and guidance, with a greater risk of injury.”
Bringing freestyle to an Olympic level has also broadened the number of nations that are participating in the sport. “In the early years, from a combined standpoint, the Germans, the French, the Americans and the Canadians were really strong. Now what is happening is that a lot of other countries have come up to that level,” says Allison. “China is just one of these newly dominant countries, excelling in the aerial platform in particular. China has gone out and established an athlete development system that is fast-tracking athletes. And they are getting incredible results.”
Since 1988, the sport of freestyle skiing has changed and adapted as a direct result of its newfound grassroots support. As it continues to evolve, most recently with the introduction of ski cross, fans like Allison can sit back and feel the excitement of the sport, and the satisfaction of knowing that more and more fans are getting excited about freestyle too.http://www.vancouver2010.com