Winter Olympics moguls final: the jump the world didn't see

Canada won its first-ever Olympic gold medal on home soil in the men's moguls Sunday. But among the absences was a skier – and a jump – trying to push moguls back to its freestyle roots.

By , Staff writer

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    American mogul skier Sho Kashima missed out on the Olympics because of a knee injury. His replacement, Bryon Wilson, won bronze.
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The jump that American mogul skier Sho Kashima spent the entire summer perfecting did not make its debut in the men's mogul final Sunday.

Admittedly, neither did Kashima, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in January. Yet even if he had been here, Kashima's jump would not have been. It is banned by the International Ski Federation, which has deemed it too dangerous.

So why did he spend a summer working on a jump that he couldn't even use in competition?

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“I learned the new trick to keep it fun,” said Kashima months ago. “Winning is just a bonus.”

This is a mentality that goes to the roots of what moguls once was and what the Olympics purport them to be: freestyle skiing – skiers pushing the limits of what the mind can devise and what the body can accomplish, come what may.

Yet within freestyle skiing, that innovation – and the “wow” factor that goes with it – is increasingly happening outside the Olympics.

“The rules that regulate us are making us mainstream,” said Kashima.

Still 'freestyle'?

American freestyle aerialist Ryan St. Onge says the sport is no longer what it was when he first got involved in 1992.

“A lot of the lifestyle from [the origin of the movement in] the ‘70s lingered,” he said. “It wasn’t about the competitions, it was about enjoying it.”

Freestyle skiing’s desire to join the Olympic movement made changes inevitable. Unlike the X Games, where judges’ decisions are not liable to launch international inquiries, the Olympics need to have a transparent and consistent standard by which tricks are tallied.

Ski federation officials are unlikely to explain a judges’ decision by arguing: “Dude, that was just the sickest run anyone threw down all day.”

Yet, in many ways, that is precisely what the uninitiated viewer wants.

Canadian skiing journalist Steven Threndyle notes that 25,000 people lined the slopes in Aspen, Colo., last month to watch the X Games big air competition, in which some skiers landed backward.

“They were throwing out brand new tricks that no one had ever seen before,” he says.

By contrast, in Olympic aerials, Threndyle suggests that “they’re still doing the same tricks they did 10 years ago, though there might be a difference in the nuance that only the most skilled commentator can see.”

In moguls, “every jump package is identical in look and score,” adds Jonny Moseley, the moguls gold medalist in 1998. “There needs to be credit for doing something original and cool.”

“Where’s the ‘rad’ factor?” he says, only partially joking when he adds: “There needs to be a rad judge.”

'The Moseley effect'

Moseley, like Kashima, chose innovation over results – and paid for it. In 2002, he unveiled the “dinner roll,” a trick designed to stretch the International Ski Federation’s rules as far as possible.

At that point, moguls skiers were not allowed to flip. So Moseley invented a spinning corkscrew to impress the crowd and the ‘rad’ judge in his own head. The real judges were less impressed, placing him fourth.

American aerialist Jeret “Speedy” Peterson invented the most difficult jump in the sport, which he calls the “hurricane” – three flips and five twists. But judges have never looked favorably on it, instead focusing on his lack of precision in the air.

“I don’t feel judges reward people going for it,” said Peterson before the Games started. “They don’t know the feeling that goes through someone’s mind when they push the envelope.”

Indeed, the break between Olympic freestyle skiing and the movement that spawned it has become so wide that skiers have had to invent a new term – “freeride skiing” – to represent what freestyle skiing once was.

Alone among the Winter Olympics’ new “stunt sports,” halfpipe snowboarding has been able to keep its attitude in an Olympic context. The reason is simple: The International Olympic Committee desperately wanted to bring in halfpipe – part of a plan to make the Winter Games more attractive to young viewers.

As a result, it has been willing to make compromises.

Why snowboarding is still 'free'

At first, the International Ski Federation demanded three “straight air” tricks – tricks with no rotation – per run. Now, after riders complained about the federation telling them what to do, it requires only one (though that is still a point of frustration for riders).

In 1998, the first Olympics with snowboarding, the final two runs were combined for a cumulative score. Riders complained that the scoring method was a disincentive to take risks. By 2002, only the best run counted.

And unlike any other Olympic sport that involves a routine, snowboarders’ tricks are not assigned a degree of difficulty and riders do not need to submit their planned list of tricks in advance – to an unparalleled degree, both they and the judges can make it up as they go along.

Admittedly, officials governing the moguls circuit have made compromises, too. Partly in response to Moseley pushing boundaries, flips are now legal. But snowboarders' greater ability to dictate their rules of their sport has allowed them to remain on the cutting edge.

For instance, halfpipe gold medal favorite Shaun White has invented a new trick still searching for a name – called the double cork, the double McTwist 1260, or the Tomahawk – which involves two flips and 1-1/2 twists.

He did have to make some concessions to mainstream judging, though. Fearing “the Moseley effect,” White introduced the trick early in the season so that judges could understand how difficult it is – and score it accordingly.

In an Olympics that has already seen danger result in tragedy, Moseley knows that officials need to be concerned about safety. “It’s a tough struggle about when to draw that line,” he says. “But with a little bit of oversight, there should be no rules on jumps.”

Kashima would agree. In the end, he had to do his jump “for myself.”

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