Olympic spots available at freestyle trials
DENVER – With one good jump under the lights, or one terrific trip through the moguls, someone like Jeremy Bloom or Emily Cook can lock up a trip to the Olympics on Friday. Or some long shot like David DiGravio or Kayla Snyderman.It will be a high-risk, high-reward day for the freestyle skiers who are in Colorado hoping to punch their ticket to Turin and let the others sweat out the rest of the selection process.”It’s pretty exciting,” said Shannon Bahrke, the moguls skier who won the automatic bid four years ago and parlayed it into a silver medal at the Olympics. “Whoever puts down the best run … everyone here is skiing really well. It’s the person who has that day.”Freestyle trials aren’t trials in the traditional sense – they won’t be used to name the entire 14-person Olympic team. Instead, one winner from each event in Steamboat Springs – men’s and women’s moguls and men’s and women’s aerials – will earn an automatic spot. The rest must continue to qualify based on their results in World Cup events over the next month.Because they have already finished in the top three during previous World Cup events, Travis Mayer (moguls) and Hannah Kearney (moguls) have already made it. Nobody else is guaranteed a spot yet, not even Bloom, the star who will head back to the football field when the Olympics are over.
Of course, there is no real holding back in freestyle skiing – the sport is filled with risks. And nobody who wins Friday will forgo the upcoming World Cup events because there is plenty of money and prestige to be gained.So, it figures the skiers who will secure their spots are the ones closing in on their peak around now.Four years ago, Toby Dawson got so worked up about qualifying for the Olympics, he flamed out and didn’t make the team at all. This time, he’s confident as ever and not willing to let Olympic qualifying ruin his experience.”There’s a lot of pressure in qualifying and it makes it tough on athletes,” Dawson said. “I let that get to me sometimes. You just have to realize that all those things are very external. This time, I’ve concentrated on my own runs and realized that that stuff will happen.”The trials, to be televised by NBC on tape delay Saturday, will mark the first major event the public can easily watch in the lead-up to the Olympics, where freestyle skiing is sure to be one of the glamour sports. For those who haven’t watched in four years, there will be changes.
Most notable are the array of so-called “off axis” tricks that are now allowed by skiing’s governing body. In 2002, now-retired freestyler Jonny Moseley had to fight to have his “Dinner Roll” jump – a barrel roll in which he spun while parallel to the ground – accepted for the Olympics.He got it approved, did it successfully in the Olympics and finished fourth. Now, off-axis tricks are routine, and many of the men who ski the moguls Friday will feature them as one of their two jumps.Dawson said the jumps, viewed as too dangerous by many four years ago, have become commonly accepted.”I don’t think they’ve made the sport any more dangerous,” he said. “A lot of the old tricks, the vertical tricks, have awkward landings that are a lot tougher.”In aerials, meanwhile, night jumps will be on display at the Olympics. To get ready, these trials will be held at night on Howelsen Hill. Skiers are used to jumping at night, although the action under the lights is quite a new spectacle.
“Aerials under the lights will be a little more unpredictable,” U.S. coach Jeff Wintersteen said. “Safety’s always the primary consideration, but I think the athletes are anxious to get through it.”Among the favorites there are Jana Lindsey, Kate Reed and Cook, whose devastating foot injuries forced her to watch the 2002 Games from the sidelines.”There was no question I’d come back,” she said. “I just didn’t know it would take this long.”While Cook figures to be in Turin regardless of her performance Friday, skiers like DiGravio and Snyderman are the longest of long shots. They were added to the U.S. roster just this month based on strong performances at selection events. Only those on the roster qualify for trials.”For some of these athletes who haven’t been in a World Cup, and won’t be in one this winter, this is their chance to maybe go from not being in the World Cup to going to the Olympics,” Wintersteen said.Vail, Colorado