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|Pipe skiers (like Simon Dumont, here) better get used to the spotlight.|
Enthusiasm for the IOC's announcement is not universal. In the months leading up to today, I've heard a few reservations expressed over the influence that Olympic competition will have on the sport of halfpipe skiing. They're worried that the Olympics might slow the progression of halfpipe skiing, or strip it of some of the individuality that currently distinguishes it. And after years of feeling ignored by the IOC and the FIS, some are wondering what's in it for them?
SBC Skier magazine and influential freeskier Anthony Boronowski went as far as to claim that it's all about the money. And maybe somebody does make a buck off Winter Olympic Ski Halfpipe somewhere along the line. I don't know. It doesn't matter. What the doubters miss when they worry whether it's all about the money is that, until today, it always has been.
Right now, halfpipe's top competitive venues are made-for-tv events. Just look at Winter X and Winter Dew Tour. Athletes at these events have their schedules packed with poster signings, promotional appearances, industry parties, and, oh yeah, the contest. I think somebody's already making a buck, don't you?
There is a marked difference in FIS-organized events, such as World Cup and World Championships, designed to function eventually as qualifying series for Olympic halfpipe competition. These lack the pageantry and the prize money of the bigger contests and have been skipped by many of halfpipe's current big names until this year, when the scent of potential Olympic glory started getting more detectable. In previous years, members of national teams such as those of Canada and France were the most regular participants.
You want progression? How about Xavier Bertoni dramatically ending Tanner Hall's three-year Winter X streak in 2009? How about Kevin Rolland doing the first double cork 12 in competition in 2010 while winning the first of four straight Winter X pipe contests? How about Justin Dorey landing the first switch double in competition at Winter X Europe? These guys are members of national teams. The dedication, discipline and focus that they practice as members of those teams is why they are pushing, progressing, halfpipe skiing so rapidly forward.
What halfpipe skiers get now, for the first time, is an opportunity to forget the poster signings, forget the schmooze time, forget the money, and focus solely on competing in halfpipe. Even better, they now have the opportunity to let their talents make them a part of something bigger than themselves.
Trennon Paynter, coach of the Canadian National Halfpipe Team, put it best when he described Olympic competition as "a chance to make thousands of people jump to their feet and cheer. It's a chance to have a whole country follow you when you're in the start gate." That's an experience that every athlete dreams of. Even one brought up in the nonconformist world of freeskiing.
When Tanner Hall broke both tibial plateaus two years ago, he definitively stated that he was out of competitive halfpipe skiing for good. Would you blame him? Those injuries, which required several surgeries and two full years for recovery, would be enough to make anybody submit. And after the career Hall has had, there wasn't anything left to accomplish until today.
"The Olympics are the big reason why I'm coming back," Hall said. Earlier this winter, when Winter Olympic Pipe was still the stuff of rumor, Hall had already reversed his retirement and laid out a four-year plan culminating in a spot on the first-ever US Olympic Halfpipe Ski Team. "I had always set out to go to the Olympics in mogul skiing when I was young," Hall said last December. "No matter what, no matter whether I win or lose there, just to be able to live out my Olympic dream that I had as a kid would be pretty sweet."
This is a guy who years ago helped lead the charge away from events that existed in the Olympics at the time. After Hall's storied career outside of the mold, the mold is now conforming to the rules that he and many other great halfpipe skiers helped shape. This is not a threat to progression. It's progression on a larger scale.
It's a dream for an individual, and it's a dream for an entire movement. It's the Olympic dream, on our terms. It's exactly the dream we want to inspire in future generations of halfpipe skiers because it's the type of dream that ensures that there will be many more great ones to come.