Vail Daily column: Athletes are ambassadors for new Olympic sports
There was nervousness in the start tent at Breckenridge last weekend. It wasn’t like David Wise or Maddie Bowman or Devin Logan or Nick Goepper or any of the dozen current stars of winter action sports hadn’t stood at the top of a Dew Tour course before. But this was different. It wasn’t just the Dew Cup at stake. It was much more — a shot at the 2014 Olympic Team. And with the advent of freeskiing plus slopestyle snowboarding in the Games, it was a whole new experience for many of the athletes.
Unlike the battle between Greg Bretz and Shaun White in halfpipe snowboarding, for the freeskiers, there were no Olympic benchmarks or past medalists. It was all new to a wide-eyed group of athletes who were only dreamers three years ago when their sport vaulted onto the Olympic stage. Since the historic announcement in 2011, an entirely new generation of stars has risen to the forefront, with the next generation nipping at their heels.
Despite the nerves and jitters, and with all the pressure set aside, the character of freeskiing rang true as the sport launched its first ever Olympic qualifying series — the Dew Tour plus Visa U.S. Freeskiing Grand Prix — five events to determine who goes to Sochi.
In an individual sport where dozens of elite athletes want to lay claim to being a part of that historic first team, there was still a great camaraderie amongst the athletes. First and foremost, it’s about their sport — a new sport they evolved themselves, inventing the tricks, pushing the envelope and showcasing it to anyone who would watch. When the IOC sent an observer to the Park City Grand Prix three years ago, it wasn’t about which athlete won. It was about how the athletes worked together to showcase their sport.
For some last week, there were tears — like freeskiing pioneer Jen Hudak who suffered a knee injury in halfpipe training that threatened the dream she lived for more than a decade. Amid her bitter disappointment, Hudak’s thoughts were not on herself but more how she presented herself as a role model and example to the young skiers who look up to her in her sport — never quit, never give up on your dreams. After all, it was Hudak’s relentless perseverance that put freeskiing on the Olympic map.
In slopestyle skiing, Devin Logan has risen up since 2011 to become one of her sport’s biggest stars — a potential two-event freeskiing star in Sochi. But nipping at her heels was young Maggie Voisin, a Montana native skiing out of Park City’s Axis Freeskiing team. Maggie was just 14 years old when she qualified for finals. On her 15th birthday Saturday, she vaulted herself into Olympic contention in third — second American! Oh, by the way, 15 is the minimum Olympic age for skiing.
Was she caught up in the spotlight? Not on your life! “If I make it to the Olympics, that would be great. But I’m really here to have fun,” she said.
Maggie was sure having fun last weekend. But be sure that the older girls were watching. Maggie’s not concerned. Sharing a bit of wisdom beyond her years, she said, “If I get that spot, I’ll get it by skiing like Maggie.”
One of the most experienced communications professionals in skiing, Tom Kelly is a veteran of eight Olympics and serves as vice president of communications for the Park City-based U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association. This column first appeared in the Park Record in Park City, Utah.