Popular X Games event ski halfpipe added to Olympics

An athlete flies through the night sky while competing in the halfpipe competition during the X Games in Aspen. Men’s and women’s ski halfpipe have been added to the 2014 Winter Olympics along with women’s ski jumping.

The 2010/11 ski season is ending for most of us, but there’s a new future for ski halfpipe.

It was announced earlier this week by the International Olympic Committee that men’s and women’s ski halfpipe and women’s ski jumping have been added to the official Olympic program for the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.

Sochi, as you probably know, is Russia’s largest resort town (why does it seem strange to use “Russia” and “resort town” in the same sentence?) and is wedged on the east coast of the Black Sea, backdropped by the Caucasus Mountains.

In addition to the XXII Winter Olympics in 2014, the city also will host the XI Paralympic Games that year.

Many of us are familiar with ski halfpipe by watching the event during the raucous (in a good way) X Games each winter at Aspen, which, by the way does a marvelous job of making the venue accessible to the public.

Other events approved by the IOC for the 2014 Winter Olympics include the mixed relay in biathlon and team events in luge and figure skating.

There even are a couple of sort-of local hopefuls for the 2014 U.S. halfpipe team. Jen Hudak, a part-time resident of Vail, recently took the silver medal in the FIS World Cup event at Park City, and Aaron Blunck of Crested Butte finished third at the U.S. Freestyle Championships at Stratton Mountain, Vermont.

In a recent statement, IOC President Jacques Rogge said adding these events “is sure to be appreciated by athletes and sports fans alike.”

Rogge said the “exciting” and “entertaining events” will “bring added appeal and increase the number of women participating in the Games.”

At the same time, he announced the decision on adding slopestyle events on snowboard and freestyle skiing will be made in May.

Women’s ski jumping had twice before been turned down as an Olympic sport on the grounds there weren’t enough elite-level competitors.

There even was a failed attempt by the jumpers to get the Canada Supreme Court to reverse earlier IOC decisions.

Maybe the number of world-caliber women jumpers suddenly increased or maybe the IOC family, as it likes to refer to itself, finally tired of the incessant and necessary pushing by women jumpers.

The turning point, according to stories on the international wires, was reached early last month at the Nordic World Championships in Oslo when women jumped despite ugly weather conditions of heavy fog and strong winds.

At the time, IOC board member Gerhard Rogge of Norway said the level of competition was impressive and he’d push to include the event in the 2014 Winter Games.

“If you compared the previous World Championships to the first one, there was much more quality and depth compared to 2009,” IOC Sports Director Christophe Dubi said.

He said if you compare 2009 and 2011, there now is a “really wide increase of technical capability.”

In case you’ve missed what halfpipe and slopestyle are about, here’s a bit of primer:

Slopestyle events feature skiers and riders performing tricks while going down the mountain and navigating a variety of man-made features, including rails, jumps and big bumps.

Perhaps the best-known of the American slopestyle and halfpipe athletes is snowboard star and four-time X Games gold medalist Shaun White.

He’s also a two-time Olympic halfpipe gold medalist and in 2006 set the record for the highest score in the men’s halfpipe at the Winter Olympics.

Ski halfpipe and snowboard halfpipe use the same course for tricks and jumps. Early halfpipes (skateboarders are big on halfpipes) were just that, built around half sections of a large pipe. That soon gave way to mechanization and now there are $100,000-plus machines that carve half-pipes out of natural and man-made snow.

The newest Olympic event is “hugely appealing to the youth,” said Dubi, an indication he’s not really been living on another planet for about a decade. “This is what kids do. It’s quite amazing what is happening.”

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