- Devon O'Neil, Writer, Action Sports
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The road to the inaugural Olympic halfpipe skiing gold medal rounded another corner Wednesday, as U.S. Freeskiing -- the newly formed arm of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association -- named nine athletes to its first Pro Halfpipe Team. This comes on the heels of the IOC's decision in April to add ski halfpipe to the Olympic program for 2014.
Winter X Games champions Simon Dumont and Jen Hudak headlined the team, which was selected based on competition results from last winter. They are joined by David Wise, Torin Yater-Wallace, Gus Kenworthy, Tucker Perkins, Devin Logan, Jess Cumming and Brita Sigourney. Mike Jankowski, the halfpipe coach for the U.S. Snowboard Team, is working in a similar capacity with skiers until more funding allows the organization to name a coach.
"At this point, my role is to be a leader," Jankowski said, noting some of the skiers have their own technical coaches. "I'm here to get this group together and create a team environment of success similar to what we have in snowboarding."
The U.S. isn't the first country to form an official national ski halfpipe team. France's includes Winter X athletes Xavier Bertoni, Kevin Rolland, Thomas Krief and Benoit Valentin and Canada recently announced the members of the Canadian Ski Halfpipe Team.
The U.S. skiers attended an orientation camp this week at USSA headquarters in Park City, Utah. Among other activities, the athletes had blood drawn to "make sure everyone's operating at an optimal level," Jankowski said. They also were tested for fitness on a stationary bike and for strength, power and mobility by the sports science staff at the team's Center of Excellence. Members of the USSA's high-performance staff will analyze the results and come up with individual programs to optimize each athlete's performance next winter, Jankowski said.
"To us, we seem fine," Perkins, 20, said. "But to them, we need to get in better shape as a team. They really want to make sure we're on point. It's cool -- we as freeskiers finally have access to that. I think it's going to make a big difference for us next season.
"Some of us are used to having a training regime, some aren't. It's going to take a little bit to get used to."
Once they sign their contracts, the athletes will be required to participate in random USADA drug testing.
To help with team bonding, all nine members were housed in the same Park City hotel, and they convened for team dinners on Monday and Tuesday nights.
Among other benefits, the national team members will be supported by USSA at both dryland and on-snow camps, as well as at major events such as the U.S. Halfpipe Grand Prix and Winter X Games. The first FIS-sanctioned event the athletes will compete in will likely be the U.S. Grand Prix in December.
"They're part of something bigger now," Jankowski said. "You're no longer representing just yourself and your sponsors and your town and your family. You're representing your country."