Olympics Winter

Freestyle Skiing History

Freestyle, or hot-dogging, as it used to be known, includes moguls, jumps and ski ballet. A professional circuit began in 1971, but was hobbled by sponsorship and insurance problems after some skiers were seriously injured in accidents.
Canadian freestyle skier Jennifer Heil is silhouetted as she trains at Cypress Mountain in West Vancouver, B.C.. The mountain will be the site of the moguls, aerials and ski cross events at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympic Games. ((Darryl Dyck/ The Canadian Press))

Competitive freestyle skiing began in the 1960s as a rebellion against the straitjacket of traditional alpine racing that reflected the wider social changes of that turbulent decade.

Norway's Stein Eriksen often is credited as the sport's godfather. Eriksen won the gold medal in giant slalom and silver in slalom at the 1952 Winter Olympics and then became a celebrity ski instructor at a number of U.S. resorts, where he often performed acrobatic shows.

The first freestyle meet is believed to have been held in Attitash, N.H., in 1966. During the competition, skiers had to ski "compulsory form" runs in which they had to display correct technique, followed by "free style" runs in which they performed stunts of their own choosing.

Hot-dogging gets organized

Freestyle, or hot-dogging, as it used to be known, includes moguls, jumps and ski ballet. A professional circuit began in 1971, but was hobbled by sponsorship and insurance problems after some skiers were seriously injured in accidents.

In Canada, the Canadian Freestyle Skiers Association was formed in 1974 and the sport soon was recognized by the Canadian Ski Association. The International Ski Federation (FIS) became freestyle's governing body in 1979 and enacted higher qualification levels for the certification of jumps. A World Cup series began in 1980 and the inaugural world championship was held in Tignes, France, in 1986.

All three disciplines — moguls, aerials and ballet — were added to the Olympic program as demonstration events for the 1988 Calgary Winter Games. Jean-Marc Rozon of Sherbrooke, Que., who is considered one of the pioneers of modern aerials, captured a gold medal for Canada.

The freestyle events proved to be so popular among both the crowds in Calgary and television audiences around the world, that the International Olympic Committee decided to promote moguls to a medal sport at the 1992 Albertville Games and bring aerials back as a demonstration event.

France's Edgar Grospiron drove the hometown crowds wild when he captured the first gold medal in the moguls competition. On the aerials side, Canadian Phillipe Laroche won the gold, and teammate Nicolas Fontaine won the silver, although they didn't count in the official medal standings. The increasing popularity of aerials and pressure from the FIS and Lillehammer organizing committee convinced the IOC to add aerials to the 1994 Olympics, much to the benefit of Canada. Ski ballet, which sometimes looked as implausible as its name suggests, has not been accepted in the Olympic program. 

The Canadian Air Force

Jean-Luc Brassard competes in the final round of the men's moguls during the Salt Lake City Winter Olympic Games in 2002. ((Al Bello/Getty Images))
In Lillehammer, Laroche captured the silver, while Lloyd Langlois won bronze in the aerial events, the first time since 1932 that Canada had won two medals in the same event. The gold medallist was Switzerland's Sonny Schonbachler who came out of retirement when the aerials were elevated to full medal stat\In moguls, Jean-Luc Brassard became a hero in his native Quebec by winning gold and defeating rival Grospiron of France.

The Nagano Games four years later were a disappointment for Canada's freestyle squad. After dominating the world championships with a total of seven medals a year earlier, Canada left Nagano empty-handed.

Fontaine, the defending world champion, had an off day and finished 10th. Brassard, who finished fourth, stirred up controversy when he said he wished he had turned down the task of carrying Canada's flag during opening ceremonies.

He later explained he was honoured to be chosen, but all the attention on his flag-bearing duties the day before his competition left him tired and distracted. Americans took gold in both men's events and in the women's aerial event.

Extreme Sports Take the Olympics

Ski Cross, an extreme downhill snow sport similar to the Snowboard Cross event, will make its debut for the 2010 Vancouver Games. Also known as skier X or skier cross, the sport began in the U.S. at the inception of the X Games in 1995 — a world reference for extreme sports competitions. It was in 2003 that ski cross was recognized by the International Ski Federation and was integrated in its freestyle category.

Canada's Davey Barr skis to third place during the FIS Freestyle World Championships Men's Ski Cross event on March 02, 2009 in Inawashiro, Japan. ((Agence Zoom/Getty Images) )
Although new to the Olympic sport program, ski cross has existed since the early days of alpine skiing competition. The "mass start" appeal of ski cross, also seen in snowboard cross, sets the stage for fast and exciting competition.

The ski cross course, designed to test skiers' skills, incorporates turns in a variety of types and sizes, flat sections and traverses, as well as rolls, banks and ridges similar to those found on a normal ski slope. Physical endurance and strength play a key role in ski cross, as athletes endure four to five runs lasting 60 seconds or longer. The competition is divided into four player heats, with the top two in each heat moving on to the quarter-final, semis, and final rounds.

At the 2006 Olympics, Canada's Jennifer Heil stole the spotlight on the very first day of competition when she snagged a gold medal in the freestyle moguls competition. Following the Olympics, Heil completed the season by winning her fourth straight World Cup title.  In Men's freestyle, China's Han Xiaopeng won the aerial competition and Dale Begg-Smith of Australia was the mogul's champion. Smith was originally born in Canada and still holds dual citizenship.

He originally started skiing in his native land but found Canada's training program too restrictive. Begg-Smith then moved to Australia, allowing him move to for business interests. Coincidently, his win bumped Canadian Marc-Andrea Moreau down to fourth place and off the podium. He is only the third Australian in history to win a gold medal at the Winter Games.

Alisa Camplin, a fellow Aussie, grabbed bronze in aerials, and combined with her gold in 2002, makes her the only Australian to win medals at two consecutive Winter Olympics.