New Olympic events could benefit Steamboat athletes

Committee adds slopestyle skiing and snowboarding, snowboard parallel slalom to 2014 games

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— The 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, still are years away, but it’s already looking like Steamboat Springs is likely to have a larger contingent than in games past.

On Monday, the International Olympic Committee added slopestyle skiing and snowboarding and snowboard parallel slalom to the games. In April, the committee added half-pipe skiing and women’s ski jumping.

The addition of the three sports Monday for men and women brings the total to nine new medal events added by the IOC this year for skiing and snowboarding under the International Ski Federation.

Steamboat in particular should have a presence in slopestyle skiing and snowboard parallel slalom.

On the parallel slalom side, those who should have a good shot at the 2014 games include Tyler Jewell, Vic Wild, Mike Trapp, Madeline Wiencke and Cassandra Wagar.

“It’s huge for snowboarding as a sport and helps our club,” said Jon Casson, Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club snowboard director. “I’m pretty excited they added a race and a freestyle element. They added more snowboarding in the Olympics, and that’s never a bad thing.”

With free skiing and snowboarding rapidly growing, it’s no coincidence that the IOC decided to add the sports.

With the new events, skiing and snowboarding will make up 50 percent of the Winter Olympic events.

“I was really excited,” said Penn Lukens, who competes in half-pipe, slopestyle and ski cross. “Skiing is getting more exposure to everyone around the world. It used to just be ski racing.”

The addition of the sports, however, likely will lead to greater specialization. Lukens said he primarily would focus on half-pipe.

Casson agreed, hinting that by the time an athlete reaches higher levels, doing half-pipe and slopestyle is unrealistic. He pointed to the most recent X Games, where Shaun White won the gold in half-pipe and didn’t qualify for slopestyle finals.

“Generally, we’re pretty half-pipe oriented,” he said. “We’re putting more kids in the half-pipe, and most of those are contenders on the national level.”

A team for the newly minted Olympic sports hasn’t been named. Each nation creates its own qualification format.

The United States Ski and Snowboard Association and the U.S. Olympic Committee are determining a selection process.

— To reach Luke Graham, call 970-871-4229 or email lgraham@SteamboatToday.com

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