Women's ski jumping, freestyle halfpipe among new sports accepted for 2014 Winter Games

Female ski jumpers in many countries are waiting for the IOC to say yes to their sport.

Winning the first Olympic gold medal in freestyle ski halfpipe “would be the ultimate, a dream come true,” says Mike Riddle, the Squamish resident who is the discipline’s current world champion.

The discipline, in which skiers score points for performing gravity-defying tricks off the 22-foot high walls of an icy halfpipe, was approved Wednesday by the IOC executive board for inclusion in the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

“We’ve all been pushing for it for four years, if not longer, doing everything we could to get it into the Olympics,” said Riddle, a 24-year-old Sherwood Park, Alta., native. “Everything sounded so good for 2014, but then it got delayed in the fall and I didn’t want to get my hopes up.

“I didn’t want to jump ahead and then maybe get disappointed. This is a huge weight off my mind.”

As expected, the executive board, meeting in London, also approved women’s ski jumping, a mixed relay in biathlon and team events in luge and figure skating.

Proposals for inclusion of slopestyle events in snowboard and freestyle skiing and a team alpine skiing event were put on hold for further review.

The addition of women’s ski jumping, controversially excluded from the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, will likely garner the most headlines. The IOC twice turned down the sport’s attempts to get into the 2010 Games, even after 15 former and current jumpers went to court in Canada arguing their human rights were being violated.

But the inclusion of ski halfpipe and the probable addition of slopestyle is more significant for Canadian medal prospects.

Besides Riddle, Roz Groenwoud of Calgary is the reigning women’s world champion in halfpipe and Kaya Turski of Montreal is the reigning women’s world champion in ski slopestyle.

“It’s phenomenally good,” Peter Judge, CEO of the Canadian Freestyle Ski Association, said of the IOC decision.

“We’ve got three or four girls right now that could medal [in halfpipe]. There’s a gene pool that’s established and deep.”

Judge said the halfpipe is a terrific addition to the Olympics. Snowboard halfpipe has been in the Olympics since 2006 and has been a huge hit, partiuclarly with the sport’s icon, American Shaun White, winning gold both in Turin and in Vancouver.

Ski cross, another freestyle discipline, was contested at the Olympics for the first time in Vancouver.

“Like ski cross was in Vancouver, ski halfpipe at Sochi will be the belle of the ball,” said Judge.

Sarah Burke of Squamish, one of the female pioneers of the sport, said she had a pretty good feeling about today’s announcement “but I’m definitely way happier than I thought I was going to be.

“I thought it would feel like a relief, but I’m really thrilled and happy. It’s almost like a surprise even though it isn’t.”

The 28-year-old Burke, who won the World Cup title last season, was the driving force behind the X Games adding halfpipe for women years after it had already been holding competitions for men.

Brent Morrice, the chairman of Ski Jumping Canada, said he was elated to finally get the confirmation that women will jump in Sochi.

“It’s fantastic, just fantastic,” he said. “We will be going for gold in 2014.”

Last October, the IOC executive board said it was “looking favorably” at adding women’s ski jumping in 2014, but said it needed more time to consider the outcome of the sport’s 2011 world championships in Oslo in February.

Despite tough weather conditions and in front of nearly 10,000 spectators, 43 athletes from 15 nations competed at those worlds.

“I’m thrilled the IOC decided to add our sport,” American Lindsey Van, the 2009 world champion, said in a release. “Women’s ski jumping has been growing over the past 10 years, but inclusion in the Olympics is what our sport needed to take the next step.”

Article Source: Vancouver Sun