U.S. Freestyle Ski Team turns to gymnastics to keep sport of aerials viable
It has come to this.
In an attempt to save one of its original three disciplines, the U.S. Freestyle Ski Team is turning to gymnastics for potential aerialists. This summer, the team is placing ads in gymnastics publications (yes, such things exist) to pick up gymnasts who are just starting to realize they are not Olympic caliber. The ski team is portraying aerials as an alternate route to the Olympics. No experience necessary.
The skills are indeed the same: the flipping, the twisting, the air-awareness. The big difference is the skis. But the coaching staff is willing to teach complete beginners – never-evers – how to ski if their aerial skills are good enough.
Imagine U.S freestyle head coach Jeff Wintersteen teaching one of his up-and-coming stars how to make a pizza and french fries on the bunny slope so that person can represent the United States on the World Cup freestyle ski tour.
Does this disgust anyone else?
If a gymnastics convert ends up on the World Cup tour, the sport should be kicked out of FIS (the International ski Federation). It can become another gymnastics discipline, alongside floor exercise and the uneven bars.
Progression is tough when you’re a relic. The sport of ballet – freestyle’s now defunct third discipline – found out the hard way. It changed its name to acro-skiing then was debarred from World Cup competition.
This gymnastics recruiting move for aerials seems to be a pre-emptive strike against the tide of skiing’s progression. You can’t really blame the ski team. It saw what happened to ballet and doesn’t want it to happen again.
I used to compete in the sport. At the time, aerial skiers came out of mogul skiing, which was in the process of out-growing its unsanctioned, hot-dogging days.
Freestyle was the cool, fringe of skiing, and the triple-twisting, triple-back flip of aerials was one of the most amazing things a skier could pull off.
Still is, I suppose, but now there’s the halfpipe, twin-tip skis and corked 720s.
How can aerials, which is still trumpeting the triple-twisting, triple-back flip, compete for young athletes with the new freestyle? It’s hard, so the sport is turning to young gymnasts to stay viable.
There is a place for more regulated freestyle skiing. It’s a personality thing. There will always be people who seek to perfect a small set of maneuvers and who want to do exactly what judge’s are looking for. These are the aerialists and gymnasts. Then there are people, perhaps the majority, who reject authority and embrace the individuality of their sport: the new-schoolers.
Hopefully, there’s enough of each to support both traditional and progressive freestyle.
Jason Starr can be reached at (970) 668-3998 Ext. 231 or at email@example.com.
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