Freestyle Skiing season review with Joseph Fitzgerald

14 May 2014 15:02
Joseph Fitzgerald
Joseph Fitzgerald -

It was a season full of highlights for Freestyle Skiing, from the World Cup to the Olympic Winter Games featuring two new Freestyle events on the agenda. FIS Freestyle Skiing Coordinator Joseph Fitzgerald took a moment to reflect on the past winter.

What’s your general evaluation of the 2013/14 season? 

We had a good season with a real mixture of competitions in both the southern and northern hemispheres in many amazing locations. We had some very exciting battles and in many cases, it came down to the last run of the last competition before we could declare our World Cup Champions.

There were a few groundbreaking events this year including the spectacular aerials competition in Beijing’s “Birds Nest” stadium in December a traditional season highlight with a event in Deer Valley (USA). In Europe, it was pretty rough in January, when we lost the whole month due to limited snowfall and cold temperatures. We were lucky to make up a few competitions and this was appreciated by all the competitors, when a our key Organiser came forward with a make-up date and location.

Since the World Cup included the qualifying competitions for the Olympic Winter Games, there was a huge need and desire to ensure that the competitors were well prepared, that the NSAs and the National Olympic Committees used the results to select their best teams, and we made the most of the increased media attention in the pre-Olympic timeframe.

How would you rate the Olympic debut of ski slopestyle and halfpipe?

I was looking at a table of the Olympic events Freestyle has now, and Sochi 2014 represented 30% of all the medals, since Freestyle’s Olympic debut in Albertville 1992. Sochi was a huge turning point for Freestyle Skiing in many ways. There was an absolutely spectacular presentation of slopestyle. The weather was superb, especially for the men’s competition, the course was very well prepared and the athletes were given the best opportunity to display their amazing skills to a global audience.

It was unfortunate that we had bad weather for the men’s ski halfpipe competition. I know that some of the competitors really could not show all the skills that they had prepared for this Olympic debut. It was great to see that the ladies competition was held under good weather conditions.

Concerning the other Freestyle Skiing events, a lot of work has gone on behind the scenes to ensure that we had a great presentation for our mogul and aerial competitions, with the new formats. The new formats created dramatic and memorable programmes; in all cases it all came down to the last jump or run. Those were the best competitions I have ever witnessed in these events.

Meanwhile, ski cross continues to be one of the highlights. The competitors gave a great show in Sochi with close heats, photo finishes and an unexpected podium sweep in the men’s competition. We say, ‘anything can happen in ski cross’ and these competitions lived up to that billing.

What are the major topics on the agenda?

We are currently in the process of reviewing the past four years including all of the details leading to Sochi 2014 and designing a plan for the lead-up to PyoengChang 2018. Our different advisory groups are reviewing how we can make adjustments to set up some best practices.

There’s been a striking and dramatic increase in the interest in our discipline. The TV and social networks numbers continue to expand in all markets, in all events and there is increased interest after the Olympic Games. The numbers in all our measurements have doubled, tripled, or quadrupled in the past four years.

We need to strive for quality in our programmes, invest in the officials and continue to grow as a marketing and communications vehicle.

The highlight of the next winter will be the World Championships in Kreischberg. What can we look forward to?

This will be the first time that we’ve integrated the World Championships with Freestyle Skiing and Snowboarding. The past three to four years we’ve been holding various competitions together including Junior World Championships, lots of events in the U.S. and our World Cup Final in Spain in 2013.

We’re lucky to have a very experienced Organiser in Kreischberg in a very important skiing nation that has shown the way by bringing these two disciplines together. We should see some great performances, since most of the top performers in the Olympics will be participating.

Any final words...

There are a huge number of people that we work with over the season. I don’t get to thank them all personally for all of their efforts, at times under some very difficult conditions. So, thanks to everyone for your committed support in developing our discipline.

There was also a huge effort by the Organising Committee in Sochi, the Freestyle Federation of Russia and the staff of Rosa Khutor who worked, sometimes under some very hard and trying conditions to present our events.

I would like to thank all of them, along with all of our different officials, technical and course advisors and assistants; it takes a long time to build up the systems, educate the people, to help to build up the sport of Freestyle Skiing.