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All You Need to Know About Freestyle Skiing

 1994 Golds
 How It Works
 Critical Moment
 U.S. Outlook
 Others to Watch
 Looking Back at Lillehammer
 Gold Medalists

Venue: The freestyle skiing events will take place at the existing Iizuna Kogen ski slopes just outside of Nagano. One of the five peaks of the Hokushin range, Mount Iizuna (elevation 1,917) provides picturesque views as well as terrain that will challenge.

1994 Golds: Men's moguls (Canada's Jean-Luc Brassard); men's aerials (Switzerland's Andreas Schoenbaechler); women's moguls (Norway's Stine Lise Hattestad); women's aerials (Uzbekistan's Lina Cherjazova).

How It Works: Freestyle skiing, which combines skiing with acrobatics, is made up of two disciplines at the Olympics: moguls and aerials. In moguls, competitors are judged by their ability to descend a slope that is heavily covered with snow bumps (moguls). During the first round, scores are based on speed, technique and the quality in which they execute many carefully calculated quick turns. The top-16 qualifiers proceed to the finals, which are either a one-run or dual-format competition. During the finals, which are performed to music, skiers are judged on skill, creativity and gracefulness.

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Critical Moment: Freestyle competitions have been described as a cross between a carnival and a beer commercial. Rock and roll blares from loudspeakers, and athletes seem to be entertainers.

"There's always a lot of energy flowing at our events," says Trace Worthington, a U.S. aerialist who recently retired because of vertigo. "We are kind of a beach volleyball of the wintertime."

The aerial event requires competitors to complete a number of acrobatic maneuvers during the few seconds they are airborne after soaring off a
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specially prepared jump. Skiers are graded by seven judges on technique and form (50 percent), takeoff and height (20 percent) and on landing (30 percent). Upright and inverted aerials are the most-common types used in competitions. In upright aerials, the skier's head must stay above his/her feet at all times. Inverted aerials include flips and twists with numerous rotations.
 Moguls: Athletes "dance" through tough downhill terrain and over bumps on a steep slope. It's very acrobatic.
 Aerials: Athletes show off their agility by using kickers of various sizes and shapes to somersault or perform twists in the air.

Freestylers are sensitive to the perception that they are not athletes. "The sport looks wild and crazy, so everyone tends to think the athletes are wild
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and crazy," Worthington says. "My feeling is that if you're wild and crazy, how the heck can you have the ability to perform the tricks we're doing? We're pretty normal people — to an extent"

Glossary: Some terms you'll hear in freestyle skiing:
Back scratcherJump in which skier bends knees and the tails of the skis touch skier's back.
Daffy: Jump in which legs are spread in a running stride.
Kosak: A split during a jump.
Quad triple: Jump involving four somersaults and three twists.

History: Freestyle skiing, or "hot-dogging" as it was referred in the United States during the late 1960s and early 1970s, was a type of free-form exhibition with few rules and a high degree of danger. Although it was often criticized because of the injuries involved, the sport officially was recognized in 1979 by the International Ski Federation. A freestyle World Cup circuit was introduced, and, for 11 years, the United States has won the World Cup Freestyle Nations Cup. However, Americans have won just three of 18 Olympic medals awarded during that time.

Freestyle skiing was introduced at the Olympics as a demonstration event at the Calgary Games in 1988. Mogul skiing became part of the official program for the Albertville Games in 1992, and aerials were added in 1994 during the Lillehammer Games. Both moguls and aerials will be featured in Nagano.

EventDateTime (ET)
Moguls (Men, Women)
Sunday, Feb. 87:30 p.m. (Feb. 7)
Moguls (Men, Women)
Wednesday, Feb. 1110 p.m. (Feb. 10)
Aerials (Men, Women)
Monday, Feb. 167:30 p.m. (Feb. 15)
Aerials (Men, Women)
Wednesday, Feb. 188:15 p.m. (Feb. 17)

U.S. Outlook: The U.S. freestyle team has dominated the World Cup circuit and won 11 consecutive titles at the Nations Cup, but the emergence of top competitors from France and Canada will push the Americans to the limit.

In the men's moguls, Jonny Moseley, of Tiburon, Calif., is the best bet for the Americans, despite finishing 12th in the 1997 World Championships. Moseley posted a promising fifth in World Cup points over the 1997 season and may be in prime condition to win a medal in Nagano. Eric Bergoust, the silver medalist at the 1997 World Championships, is a strong contender in the men's aerials. Former world champion Trace Worthington, who won 37 World Cup golds and the 1995 world championship, retired Sept. 5 because of vertigo.

One of the best bets for a U.S. gold in Nagano comes in the women's moguls, where the United States will send Donna Weinbrecht and Liz McIntyre, both of whom already have won Olympic medals: Weinbrecht a gold in 1992 and McIntyre a silver in 1994. Backing them up is veteran Ann Battelle, who had never skied moguls until after graduating from Middlebury College in 1989 The top U.S. aerialist is Nikki Stone, who won the 1995 World Cup title and gold at the world championships that year.

Others to Watch: Canadian Jean-Luc Brassard, who won a gold medal in moguls at Lillehammer and is the current world champion, is a solid contender whose impeccable skills and dramatic flair will not go unnoticed in Nagano. Expect a strong performance from his fellow countryman, Stephane Rochon, who at 23 may find the opportunity in Nagano to emerge from Brassard's shadow. Other challengers in the men's moguls include Sweden's Jesper Ronnback and Frenchmen Fabrice Ougier and Thony Hemery.

In aerials, the Canadians — current world champion Nicolas Fontaine, Andy Capick and David Belhumeur — are aiming for a medal sweep. Fontaine finished sixth in Lillehammer and had a dream season in 1996-97, claiming the World Cup and numerous Canadian titles.

If the U.S. women falter in the moguls, Germany's Tatjana Mittermayer, who finished sixth in Lillehammer, and France's Candice Gilg, who finished fifth, are ready to make a move. The top aerialists are Canadians Veronica Brenner and Caroline Olivier and Australian Kirstie Marshall.

Looking Back at Lillehammer: Brassard earned the gold in men's moguls, ending a long-standing competition against his rival, Edgar Grospiron of France, the defending champion from the Albertville Games. Grospiron, who openly criticized Brassard's skiing ability, had to settle for bronze.

Norway's Stine Lise Hattestad won the gold in women's moguls, and McIntyre took the silver, the only freestyle medal for the U.S. team. Weinbrecht, who was heavily favored before the moguls event despite coming back from knee surgery, did not repeat the medal performance she gave in Albertville.

Switzerland's Andreas Schoenbaechler edged out favored Philippe LaRoche for the gold in men's aerials. The loss was bittersweet for LaRoche, who won gold in 1992, when the event held only demonstration status. In women's aerials, Lina Cherjazova, of Uzbekistan, won the gold medal, the first for her country.

Gold Medalists:
Men's Moguls
YearSkier, CountryPoints
1992Edgar Grospiron, France 25.81
1994Jean-Luc Brassard, Canada27.24
Men's Aerials
YearSkier, CountryPoints
1994Andreas Schoenbaechler, Switzerland234.67
Women's Moguls
YearSkier, CountryPoints
1992Donna Weinbrecht, United States23.69
1994Stine Lise Hattestad, Norway 25.97
Women's Aerials
YearSkier, CountryPoints
1994Lina Cherjazova, Uzbekistan166.84

Trivia: 1. Where and when did freestyle skiing originate?
2. When was the aerial event introduced at the Olympic Games?
3. How many medals has the United States won in freestyle skiing?

© Copyright 1998

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