We are now only a few days away from the Opening Ceremony of the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games and nearly every nation participating in Freestyle Skiing has announced the athletes they will be sending to compete in aerials, moguls, ski cross, and the two new Olympic events of halfpipe and slopestyle at the Games. Approximately 280 athletes will be on hand to compete in the five freestyle events.
The introduction of halfpipe and slopestyle to the Olympic programme has created an unprecedented number of medals to be won, and 30 pieces of hardware will be handed out across the five men's and five ladies' competitions. Vancouver 2010 saw 18 medals awards in freestyle events at the Games, while at the birth of Olympic freestyle competition, in Albertville, a mere six medals were awarded in the only freestyle event, moguls.
With the remarkable return of Michael Schmid (SUI) to the Audi ski cross World Cup, five of the six gold medallists from Vancouver 2010 will be on hand at Sochi 2014 to defend their titles, with only ladies' ski cross champion Ashley McIvor no longer competing. Alex Bilodeau (CAN) and Hannah Kearney (USA) in moguls, and Lydia Lassila (AUS) and Alexei Grishin (BLR) in aerials will all be looking to do what no other freestyle skier has done before and win back-to-back Olympic gold medals.
There are several sets of siblings competing in the various freestyle events. Most notable of these is perhaps moguls stars Justine, Chloe, and Maxime Dufour-Lapointe (CAN), who currently hold the number two, three, and five spots on the moguls World Cup leaderboard. Not to be outdone, the Wells boys Jossi, Byron, and Beau-James (NZL) will square off in the Olympic debut of ski halfpipe, while Jossi and Beau-James will also throw their hat into the ring come slopestyle time at the Games. Thomas and Christopher Lambert will face off in men's aerials competition, while Andrey and Sergey Volkov (RUS) will both be representing the host nation in hopes of earning Russia's first moguls medal since Sergey Shupletsov won silver at Lillehammer 1994.
By nation, the Canadians, Americans, and host Russians lead the way in numbers, fielding a full roster of 26 athletes (the most permitted a nation). Close behind are the Swiss, with 24 athletes heading to Russia, and the French and Australians, both sending 21 skiers. In the case of the Canadians and Americans the fight to make the team was a brutal one, and several top athletes, including slopestyle world champion Tom Wallisch (USA), failed to meet qualification standards and were left behind.
By contrast, several nations will be represented at the Sochi 2014 freestyle skiing discipline by a single athlete. Paraguay, Brazil, Spain, Slovenia, Poland, and the British Virgin Islands all fall in this category, with Paraguay and BVI entries in fact the only athletes competing for their respective countries at the Games, period.
Up and down the list of Freestyle Skiing competitors who are on their way to Sochi 2014 are Olympic medallists, Olympians, world champions, crystal globe winners, X-Games victors, record holders, and innovators, as for the first time the full FIS Freestyle program will be on display for the world to see. Every athlete competing has a hero's story to tell, and a lucky few will get to share that story with the world.
With 280 athletes representing 30 diverse nations, the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games will be a true showcase of the international appeal of freestyle skiing. Stars will be made, dreams will be realized, and the flame will be kindled in the minds of a whole new generation of freestyle skiers by the time it's all said and done in Sochi.