This morning, the great city of Chicago was swiftly eliminated from the running to host the 2016 Summer Olympics. Bummer. But let's look on the bright side. Last week, Bode Miller (the prolific and capricious alpine ski racer from rural New Hampshire) announced that he is returning to the U.S. Ski Team to try to qualify for the upcoming Winter Olympics in Vancouver. He has a lot to prove after his lackluster performance in 2006 in Torino, so it should be an interesting comeback to follow.
But what about The Dumont? You know, Simon Dumont, the 24-year-old ball of muscle who, in April of 2008, in Sunday River, Maine, set a world record when he boosted 35 feet out of a 38-foot tall quarter pipe (yes, that's a total of 73 feet above ground)? Remember, the guy who now resides in Summit County, with all of the X Games medals, huge corporate sponsors, an all-American smile, and a screaming pack teenage girls following him around at competitions?
Simon and his friends (read: talented fellow athletes with whom he's formed a brotherly bond) who compete in halfpipe and slopestyle are a hard working, high performance bunch. All they do is ski, train for skiing, and recover from their numerous, inevitable injuries. Their sport is evolving so fast, in fact, that each competition is an all-out battle where the victor could be a 'big name,' but could just as likely be a 'no name' (never underestimate the potential of a kid armed with a trampoline, foam pit, and a desire to progress). But somehow, despite having shown and proved their sport to the masses for the last ten or so years, this progressive brand of skier has been excluded from the Olympic mix.
The action sports community rejoiced in 1998 when snowboarders were granted their Olympic dream; and this year in Vancouver, skier cross (which is more similar to ski racing than it is to freeskiing) will debut as an official Olympic event. The evolution is there, but boy-o-boy is it slow. Tentatively, halfpipe skiers are on the Olympic roster for 2014 -- a full sixteen years after their one-planked counterparts had the chance, and a full four years from present (that seems like an eternity to someone like myself who is a fan of skiing in all of its diverse forms).
To eliminate all confusion, these freeskiers do have Olympic dreams. Look no further than Jon Olsson for evidence -- Jon (pronounced Yoon), who has become a rock star of sorts in his native Sweden and in the industry in general through his uber-accomplished freeskiing career, decided last year to progress with a duel purpose. After a healthy wager with a friend on the Swedish National Ski Team -- and undoubtedly, a desire to compete as a two-sport athlete in the 2014 Winter Olympics -- Jon has been participating (at a high level, I might add) in both freeskiing and ski racing events. Yep, Kangaroo Flips and Giant Slalom. If that's not passion to compete, I don't know what is. And this from a guy who now lives in Monaco and drives from ski resort to ski resort in his Lamborghini.
Last weekend, Aspen played host to The Meeting, an annual gathering (now in its fifth year) devoted to winter action sports. Over a long weekend, filmmakers, magazine editors, photographers, team managers, athletes, fans, and other industry people assemble to
celebrate and collaborate. A big part of the event are a plethora of film screenings, which serve to catalog and showcase the athletes' collective progression during previous season (and to elevate viewers' collective excitement for the upcoming season); but equally important are The Meeting's town hall style meetings, which provide a forum through which industry players can collaborate on the successes of their respective sports.
I attended one such town hall meeting, and a healthy chunk of time was spent talking about the upcoming Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Among the topics discussed: the exclusion of freeskiers, Shaun White's mass 'housewife' appeal, Louie Vito on Dancing with the Stars, and generally, how to use the Olympics as a platform through which to promote their respective sports, while remaining true to their core cultures. For snowboarders, and companies like Burton (who is supplying the U.S. Snowboard Team's uniforms), the answer is pretty straightforward. But for the freeskiers and many of their sponsors, who weren't invited to the Olympic party, it's a little more complicated. How does a player in the freeskiing game achieve important, mass media exposure for their sport during a winter reserved by the Olympics? One magazine editor indicated that his publication would be including some Whistler, B.C.-based coverage in their issue that -- in terms of timing -- coincides with the Olympics. But that seemed a bit tenuous to me -- a little far removed from the games themselves to really create a connection for the average consumer. The entire room pondered: how can an excluded segment of the industry authentically participate in (and reap the mass market benefits of) all of that Olympic buzz? We were stumped.
Regardless, the freeskiers in attendance made it brazenly clear that -- Olympics or not -- they're going to continue their progression. It's that sort of drive inherent in these young athletes, and the folks who film, write about, manage, and support them that makes me optimistic that The Dumont and his progeny will make the most of their Olympic opportunity in 2014. Until then -- as Simon Dumont, speaking on behalf of the brotherhood of freeskiers, put it -- "[The] X Games are our Olympics, so tune in."