- Freestyle Skiing
Preview: Men's ski cross
Ski cross is in many ways like short track speed skating on snow. With four riders on the course racing head-to-head at high speeds in close quarters down a winding course, contact is inevitable and crashes happen. For that reason, ski cross is tough to predict — medal favorites can be knocked out early and upstarts who manage to reach the final have a fighting chance. That said, there have been a few consistent skiers recently in and they should be considered the strongest candidates to reach the podium in Sochi.
Since ski cross was added to the Olympic program, many traditional alpine powers have seen some of their athletes transition to ski cross in hopes of capturing an Olympic medal in this burgeoning sport. Switzerland, in particular, has benefitted from this exodus, with several medal contenders in its ranks. Michael Schmid won the inaugural men’s ski cross event in Vancouver, but has torn his left ACL three times since the 2009-10 season. A recent third-place World Cup finish suggests the 29-year-old may still be in contention and despite only competing in three races this season, his rivals have said that Schmid can never be counted out.
Embedded video_content_type: Cheat Sheet: Ski cross
Two of Schmid’s teammates enter Sochi on more solid ground. Last season, Alex Fiva and Armin Niederer, both former alpine skiers, finished one-two in the World Cup standings, combining to win five out of the 10 World Cup races. The two are contrasts in style, often achieving their success in different ways. A relatively small ski cross racer, Niederer is known for his superior tactics, often slipping past competitors at unforeseen moments. Meanwhile, Fiva may be one of the more physically imposing skiers on the circuit. During the summers, the six-foot-two, 200-pound skier plays wide receiver on one the top European football teams, winning Europe’s version of the Super Bowl in 2012. With his size, the 29-year-old can carry speed throughout the course and rarely has trouble emerging through traffic. Born in southern California and first learning to ski in Lake Tahoe, Fiva spent the majority of his life in his mother’s homeland, honing his craft in the Swiss Alps.
France is the other country with a proud alpine tradition and promising ski cross team. Its young star is 24-year-old Jean Frederic Chapuis, the reigning world champion. The son of a French father and Swiss mother, Chapuis tried to qualify for the 2010 Olympic alpine teams of each country before realizing he would not find a spot on their talented rosters. Since discovering ski cross in the summer of 2010, the Frenchman has not been as consistent as some of the other top skiers, but his 2013 world title has demonstrated that he has the talent to reach the podium in any race.
Sweden’s Victor Ohling Norberg also had a rocky start to his ski cross career after transitioning from alpine skiing. However, following his victory at the Olympic test event last February, the 23-year-old has developed into a medal threat, reaching three podiums this season. Fellow competitors have remarked that the speedy Swede has some of the best technique on the World Cup circuit.
Vancouver silver medalist Andreas Matt is coming off a down year last season, but the Austrian skier is looking sharp again after winning the second World Cup event of this season in Val Thorens, France. The 31-year-old will be joined in Sochi by his older brother, Mario, who is a two-time slalom world champion and medal favorite in that event.
Canada boasts one of the deepest teams in the field and its leader, Dave Duncan, is the only man that has won two World Cup races this season. Four years ago, Duncan qualified at the last minute for the Vancouver Games, but two days before the Olympic debut of men’s ski cross, the London, Ontario native broke his collarbone in a training run crash. Although few have looked stronger this season, Duncan doesn’t have a great history of success in big events. His teammate, Brady Leman, who replaced Duncan on the Vancouver roster, only to break his leg the following day and miss the Olympics, is another contender, who has raced in four World Cup finals this season, reaching the podium twice.
Embedded owg_slideshow: Freestyle skiers take Sochi course for a test run
The third member of the Canadian team, Chris Del Bosco, was considered a medal favorite for the 2010 Games. The Colorado-born skiing prodigy reached the final and was in position to earn bronze with only a few hundred meters remaining. Not satisfied with third, however, Del Bosco attempted a tricky pass and crashed out to finish fourth. “I race to win, and I didn’t win today,” Del Bosco said afterwards, explaining his risky move. “I would have been frustrated with second. Some people are happy with just placing. I’m not one of those people.” The 31-year-old has continued his penchant for the dramatic since Vancouver, missing most of the 2012-13 season with a broken shoulder and back, only to return for the final few events of the season and finish second at the Olympic test event and sixth at the World Championships. While the 2011 world champion struggled at the beginning of this season, his talent and record of success cannot be overlooked.
The Americans have a decent chance to contend for a medal in this event as well. John Teller is a part-time auto mechanic from Mammoth Lakes, California that grew up racing against some of the top U.S. alpine skiers of today like Bode Miller and Steve Nyman. After his alpine career didn’t work out, Teller discovered ski cross and has had some notable success in the past few years. After his first World Cup victory in 2011, Teller finished third at the 2013 World Championships and won another World Cup event this January. Although several low finishes are mixed in with these top results, the 30-year-old could very well be in the competitive picture in Sochi. During the summer, Teller funds his skiing career by working five days a week in his uncle’s auto body shop, which has been in the family for more than 40 years.
Embedded video_content_type: From California to Sochi: John Teller
The final story to track is how the Canadian ski cross team honors a teammate of theirs that died following a crash in competition nearly two years ago. At a World Cup race in Grindelwald, Switzerland on March 3, 2012, Nik Zoricic crashed wildly in one of the heats. He was soon air lifted to a nearby hospital, where he was pronounced dead due to severe neurotrauma. The Canadian team honored the Yugoslavian-born 29-year-old by wearing denim-looking race suits last season, a reference to when Zoricic competed in jeans at one of his first World Cup events. Duncan, in particular, has made a point of honoring his teammate’s passing. Duncan, who has a tattoo on his right arm of a cross made of skis and poles with Zoricic’s date of birth and death, joined a collection of athletes and officials as an athlete liaison in an effort to improve safety conditions in ski cross events.
Embedded owg_slideshow: Sochi ski and snowboard cross course revealed
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