Vail ski pipe athletes hopeful for 2014
Vail, CO Colorado
EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado – To the delight of young skiers in Vail, the International Olympic Committee announced Wednesday that men’s and women’s halfpipe skiing will be included in the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.
Women’s ski jumping will also be included for the first time, while a decision for slopestyle skiing and snowboarding and the alpine team event will be made in late May.
The announcement was certainly not a surprise, as the IOC said back in October that the ski pipe and slopestyle would likely be admitted. However, the prospect of including yet another judged event (compared to more cut-and-dry clocked events) is something the Olympic committee has been resisting.
With the prospect of representing their country at the Olympics less than three years from now, local halfpipe athletes have already begun ramping up their training.
Taylor Seaton, 20, of Edwards, was 10th at the 2011 X Games halfpipe event. He was fourth for Americans, which, if that’s any harbinger, puts him right in the hunt to qualify for the Olympics. (Olympic snowboarding halfpipe accepts four men and four women from the U.S. One could suspect skiing will have a similar quota.)
“We’re super stoked about it,” Seaton said. “As soon as I woke up, I went online to see the result. I’ve been anticipating this date, waiting for it to happen.”
Seaton arrived for his regular workout session with trainer Donnie LeBlanc at the Homestead Court Club Wednesday. The first words out of his mouth were “Olympics 2014,” and the two began working toward that goal.
“There’s a fairly good chance (for me to qualify). There are a lot of young, upcoming pipe skiers from America. And it is three years from now; you can’t forget about that. By then, I’ll be one of the more experienced skiers in the American field. I see all the young kids coming up pretty quickly, but then again, they won’t have all the competition experience,” Seaton said.
While competing at the X Games, which was previously considered the sport’s premier event, is an honor for Seaton, representing his country at the Olympics would be the ultimate achievement, he said.
“Now that it’s legit, my mind seems clear and I know exactly what I want my future to be,” he said. “It gives you a lot more motivation knowing that it’s possible because the Olympics will definitely be the top of the top, competition-wise.”
Jen Hudak – who is from Connecticut and lives in Salt Lake City but trains with freestyle guru Elana Chase out of Ski and Snowboard Club Vail – is one of the world’s best women in the pipe. She is a two-time X Games halfpipe champion and would be a lock if Olympic selections were held tomorrow.
She said having the halfpipe included in the Olympics is a dream come true. Now, it’s on to the next dream: qualifying.
“We’ve all been hoping for this,” Hudak said. “We competed in our first World Cup seven or eight years ago now, and it’s nice for it to finally be a reality. For a lot of us, we were expecting this decision to happen, but we weren’t holding our breath because you never know.”
While there’s no question that the Olympics would be bigger, much bigger, than the X Games, Hudak insists halfpipe skier would never have gotten this opportunity without the X Games.
“Having a balance of both events is really going to help us excel. But having that one pinnacle event every four years is going to be really special,” she said.
Some say the inconsistency in judging the halfpipe has been a problem since the inception of the sport. Between the X Games, Dew Tour and FIS, there are several governing bodies, all with different standards and criteria.
It’s something most athletes would like to see become more standardized. Seaton, for one, would like to see the judges reward style, rather than big, sloppy spins, and he expects to be a leader in the process of lobbying competition officials to modify the system.
“We talk to judges at basically every event during the season,” Seaton said. “They want to know, what are the newest tricks? How should the athletes be judged? Basically, it’s going to up to us and whoever steps up to take the lead in that way.”
Hudak is less concerned with the inconsistencies in judging, saying in some ways it adds to the excitement of the sport, but she plans to encourage more dialog among the athletes and judges leading up to the Olympics.
“I think judging will always be an issue,” Hudak said. “With a sport like ski halfpipe, it’s always going to be a factor. Ultimately, it comes down to a matter of perception and opinion. We’ve all been working very hard in the sport – and judges have taken a lot of initiative, also – to have open communication with the athletes in the field to see where we want the sport to go.”