- Freestyle Skiing
Freestyle skiers out to bump and jump to second gold
ROSA KHUTOR, Russia - No freestyle skier has ever won two Olympic gold medals since the bump-and-jump sport made its Winter Games debut in 1992 but American Hannah Kearney could change all that on Saturday.
Kearney has dominated the women's moguls since winning gold in Vancouver four years ago and underlined her status as firm favorite to defend her title by finishing first in Thursday's first qualifying heat.
Men's moguls champion Alex Bilodeau and his predecessor Dale Begg-Smith, aerials champions Alexei Grishin and Lydia Lassila as well as Michael Schmid, the 2010 ski cross gold medalist, are also in the hunt to be the first repeat freestyle champion.
There will definitely be no repeat champion in the halfpipe or slopestyle, however, as they make their Olympic debuts in Sochi, taking the number of freestyle events to five and the number of gold medals up for grabs to 10.
The two new events, the latest to graduate from the X-Games, will bring thrills, spills and plenty of attitude as Olympic chiefs target a younger demographic with telegenic sports and athletes with serious street cred.
Embedded video_content_type: Cheat Sheet: Freestyle skiing halfpipe
It is, however, the venerable moguls - the first freestyle event to get Olympic medal status in Albertville 22 years ago - which gets the freestyle competition underway with Saturday night's women's final under the Extreme Park lights.
Kearney swept through qualifying in imperious style and her rivals, most prominently the younger two of the three Dufour-Lapointe sisters who also reached the final, will be relying on the 27-year-old making a mistake if they are to snatch the gold.
Canadian Bilodeau is also favored to keep the other mogul gold in North America in Monday's final but faces something of an unknown quantity in Australian Begg-Smith, who has returned to competition after three years of semi-retirement.
A gold medallist in Turin in 2006, the 29-year-old won silver behind Bilodeau in Vancouver and could be a contender if his battered body can hold up to the stresses of competition.
Embedded video_content_type: Moguls skier Alex Bilodeau plans for life after Olympics
Begg-Smith's compatriot Lassila also took a long break after Vancouver to have a child but showed she had lost none of her acrobatic talent when she returned last year.
Lassila looks like the best chance of keeping a strong Chinese contingent, spearheaded by the dominant Xu Mingtao, off the top of the podium in the women's aerials.
TRIPLE-CORK A STAPLE
Belarusian Grishin will also have to see off a band of Chinese challengers when he takes to the air to defend his men's aerials title.
Swiss Schmid dominated the pell-mell frenzy of the men's ski cross on the event's debut in Vancouver but recent results on the World Cup circuit have given Canada high hopes of more Winter gold in Sochi.
While the ski cross offers the drama of head-to-head racing, halfpipe is all about style as competitors look to impress the judges with their moves along a U-shaped half cylinder designed to give maximum opportunity to get airborne.
North American skiers could dominate here too with the Canadians talking up a podium sweep in the men's contest and Devin Logan and Maddie Bowman of the United States looking to lock down the top two steps on the women's podium.
Embedded video_content_type: Maddie Bowman tests out new tricks in Mammoth victory
Americans are also likely to rule the roost in slopestyle, an event which owes much to urban skateboarding and features tricks on rails and spectacular jumps just made for multi-angle television coverage.
Nick Goepper is a big favorite in the men's event and made it clear that the Olympics is about to embrace not only a new event but a whole new language as well.
"I think a triple-cork will be a staple in the winning run," he told reporters earlier this week.
"I think there's going to be a lot of guys throwing the triple-cork, I think it's just going to be about grabbing it all the way through and stomping it down."
Embedded video_content_type: Cheat Sheet: Freestyle skiing moguls
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