At Turin, a new look for moguls: upside down

The sport allowed inverted aerials in 2003. The men's competition is Wednesday night.

Jonny Moseley is proof that you don't need to win a medal to change the Olympics.

Actually, he has one - his gold from the Nagano Games. Yet the spectacle of Wednesday night's moguls competition was born not in 1998, but in the mountains of Utah four years later.

On that day, Moseley flung himself into history and a fourth-place finish with a jump intended to stick a ski pole in the craw of the skiing establishment - a sideways spin barely legal under rules that prohibited flips.

Wednesday night, that so-called Dinner Roll would be among the tamer tricks performed off the two jumps of the mogul run. Instead, there will be every manner of flip - all of them now legal - as skiers turn what was once simply a mogul run into an aerial arms race, with each trick more absurd than the last.

"When people see mogul skiing now, they say, 'Wow,' " says Nate Roberts, who won the World Cup mogul circuit last year, yet barely missed making the Olympic team this year. "Jonny upped the ante for everybody."

For Roberts, who sees nothing at all wrong with attempting to do a double back flip while darting through skiing's version of a mine field, Moseley is a revolutionary deserving of a tricorn hat and musket.

To be sure, Moseley had an army of devoted followers that day in Deer Valley, when he leapt into a seething sea of arms and legs at the end of his run. And he'll be proud if his greatest contribution to mogul skiing was to move it back toward its freestyle roots, where the wonder of "wow" outweighs the bloodless dissection of every twitch and turn.

"It's the way it should be," he says. "The whole premise of the sport is freestyle and innovation, and you can't put too many rules on that."

Freestyle skiing's governing body at last agreed, allowing inverted aerials in 2003. Back then, Roberts was alone in attempting a back flip with a single twist. Sunday, during the women's competition, several skiers tipped headfirst into the Olympics' new era by performing front flips. Canadian Andre Bilodeau, a former aerialist whose tricks Moseley most admires, can twin a double back flip off one jump with three full spins off the other.

"That's why I didn't get into alpine [skiing]," enthuses Jeremy Bloom, who leads an American team without a clear medal favorite. "I like the big air."

Shannon Bahrke, however, still has a pole bent into a right angle to remind herself of the lesson she learned from one jump: "Do not ever do that again."

On that attempt, the 2002 silver medalist missed a back flip, smashing the now- memorialized pole into her jaw, which broke and needed to be wired shut for three weeks.

With the air of one discussing what he had for lunch, Olympian Travis Cabral says that he has crushed a hip flexor.

"When you step onto the snow, you really do face your fears," says Olympian Jillian Vogtli, who finished 11th on Sunday, one spot behind the top American, Bahrke.

For Bahrke, the fear is new. "When I first started to mogul ski, it was about mogul skiing. There was no fear; you were 100 percent sure you could do everything," she says. "Now, there's that fear."

Hannah Kearney is the sort of person who seems more likely to eat a chain saw than yield to fear. But that doesn't mean she's thrilled by the trend toward moguls into an air show. After all, she argues, shouldn't moguls be about, well, moguls?

"As athletes, we feel the need to go really big," she says.

In the rush to spin like a pinwheel, others agree, the art of the perfect turn has been diminished. "A lot of people know how to jump, but they don't know the precision and the technique to be a good moguls skier," says Cabral.

Moseley himself acknowledges that with the changes he wrought, the competition now "does seem like a bunch of moguls between two jumps."

But that's not necessarily a bad thing. To him, mogul skiing began at a time when many freestyle skiers did both moguls and aerials, the sport where jumpers perform a single, more complicated jump off a much larger ramp. Turns will always be a part of mogul skiing. But reconnecting the sport to its freestyle beginnings gives it room to grow - upward, sideways, and upside-down.

"It was necessary," he says. "The sport was hitting the ceiling."

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