Ones to Watch | Freestyle Skiing Medal Contenders at the 2018 Winter Olympics
Medal contenders and favourites for ski halfpipe, slopestyle and ski cross at the Winter Olympics
Who are the medal contenders for freestyle skiing in the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang? There are quite a few disciplines of freestyle skiing but we’re going to focus on three in particular - the ski slopestyle, the ski halfpipe, and the ski cross, all of which are among the most exciting sports in the Winter Games.
If you’re looking for a bit more information on what exactly each one of these disciplines is, you might want to check out our in depth guide to each, put together in the lead up to the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics. You can find each of them at their respective links below:
- What is Slopestyle? Winter Olympic Guide and Preview
- What is Halfpipe? Winter Olympic Guide and Preview
- What is Ski Cross? Winter Olympic Guide and Preview
Now let’s get on with the freestyle skiing predictions!
Winter Olympic Slopestyle Skiing
The Winter Olympic slopestyle skiing is the event that pits the freestyle skiers against each other on a course made of rails and a range of kickers. We know the photo above is of a snowboarder, but, c'mon, it's from Pyeongchang and it's an incredible shot from our man on the ground, Sam Mellish.
The contest is judged on style, difficulty of run, execution and the skill involved. The skier who gets the best score for an individual run in finals takes the gold medal.
Who are the Favourites and Medal Contenders for Slopestyle Skiing?
Norwegian sensation Oystein Braaten is one of the hot favourites for the men's slopestyle, as is the ever popular Swedish skier Henrik Harlaut, whose declaration that “Wu-Tang is for the children" made him a household name (however briefly) after being interviewed at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games. Harlaut comes into Pyeongchang having just won the 2018 X Games slopestyle with a strong, technical yet brilliantly smooth run.
American skier Gus Kenworthy has a great shot at a medal too. Kenworthy came out as gay last year and has been using the Olympics as a platform for LGBT rights as well, so he'll have a lot of people cheering him on. He got a silver medal back at Sochi, and he’ll want another one now.
USA's Nick Goepper, Austrian Ferdinand Dahl and Swiss skier Andri Ragettli are also in with a chance, while Team GB's James Woods will be an outside shot for Great Britain.
Woodsy claimed the first gold of the 2017-18 FIS Slopestyle season in Cardrona, New Zealand in August 2017, but the four since have seen Oystein Braaten pick up one gold and two silver medals. Of course, these stats always need taken with a pinch of salt as not all Olympic athletes would always be in attendance and conditions change everything!
In the women's slopestyle Norwegian Johanne Killi and Sweden’s Jennie-Lee Burmansson are possibly the two front-runners, while French woman Tess Ledeux, American Maggie Voisin and Norway’s Tirill Sjaastad Christiansen are also in with a great podium shot.
Voisin won the recent 2018 slopestyle at the X Games so will be hoping to convert that to an Olympic gold and seems to have hit form at just the right time.
"Swiss athletes Sarah Hoefflin and Mathlide Gremaud both have a double cork in their bag"
Swiss athletes Sarah Hoefflin and Mathlide Gremaud will be confident after strong recent X Games results as well, and Team GB's Katie Summerhayes is an outside shot for Britain.
Sjaastad Christansen, Killi, Ledeux and Murmansson all have a gold medal from the 2017-2018 FIS campaign, but the Swede Burmansson's record reads as the most consistent. She's only missed out on one podium place from the five events so far, with one gold, two silvers and a bronze.
On Team GB, skiers Katie Summerhayes and Isabel Atkin will be competing. Both have the potential to reach up into the medal spots on their day. Isabel Atkin actually was raised and trained in America, but represents Team GB through her British father.
What will it take to win slopestyle skiing?
To win the slopestyle skiing you’ll need the perfect combination of style and skill, with difficult tricks executed perfectly.
Several of the top woman are now including double corked tricks into their runs, meaning the winning run may feature at least one of these on the big final kickers. A double cork is a twisting double backflip where you have to spin around at least three times.
Swiss athletes Sarah Hoefflin and Mathlide Gremaud both have a double cork in their bag and have proven it in competition. Hoefflin won the 2018 Big Air X Games and Germaud took that same prize in 2017.
Voisin’s winning slopestyle run at the 2018 X Games, however, did not include a double cork. It included a stylish rail section, a right-sided 900 tail grab, a switch 900 and a rodeo 900 to finish. It was steady and it was enough to give Voisin the competition.
Triple corks really started taking off in men's skiing after Sochi 2014 and you'll be seeing a few of those in the men's game.
It's unlikely there will be a quad cork, but Fabian Boesch has a triple corked 1980 (three full flips and five and a half rotations) in his locker for Big Air, and Slopestyle tricks are quickly catching up to this.
On the men's rails expect tricks which include the skiers tricking both and off the rails. You could get someone hitting a switch left 270 onto the rail, and a backside 360 off, for example.
Harlaut won X Games slopestyle with a run scoring 93. It included a very smooth rail section, a switch right side double corked 1080, a switch triple cork 1260 and a nose butter double cork 12 tailgrab to finish.
For more information on slopestyle ski terms and what each trick means in more detail click here!
Winter Olympic Halfpipe Skiing
The Winter Olympic halfpipe skiing challenges skiers to do the best tricks possible in one run down the halfpipe. The contest is again judged on style, air, skill, execution and the difficulty of the run, and whoever comes out with the best score from the judges for an individual run in the final gets the gold medal.
Who are the Favourites and Medal Contenders for Halfpipe Skiing?
Team USA have a serious chance of doing a clean sweep of medals in the men’s halfpipe skiing in Pyeongchang.
The bookmakers are putting the favourites as Americans David Wise (reigning gold medallist), Alex Ferreira and reigning world champion Aaron Blunck. It also wouldn't be a surprise to see US skier Torin Yater-Wallace on the podium or even wearing gold, having placed first in the Olympic test event back in the 16/17 season.
The Canadian crew including Noah Bowman, Mike Riddle and Simon D'Artois will be doing their best to stop that happening, but it is likely to be an all-North American affair.
The FIS Halfpipe World Cup has had five stops so far this year and Americans have won four of them. David Wise has won two gold medals and Alex Ferreira has taken one gold and two silvers.
"Thomas Krief is actually the only non-North American to win a FIS stop this year"
French freeskier Kevin Rolland is possibly the biggest threat to the North American dominance of this event. He's got a whole host of medals already in his locker including X-Games golds from 2010, 2011 and 2016 - and fellow Frenchman Thomas Krief is actually the only non-North American to win a FIS stop this year, coming back from injury to take the gold in the first ever halfpipe competition in Beijing on 22 December.
Cassie Sharpe of Canada and Brita Sigourney of the USA are the favourites for the women's halfpipe skiing, but the women's event is likely to be more internationally contested than the men's. Expect Marie Martinod of France to be right in the mix.
Maddie Bowman from the USA will have podium hopes as well, having won the gold in Sochi, as will Kexin Zhang from China and Yurie Watabe from Japan. Maddie Bowman recently won the 2018 X Games halfpipe, so while her last Olympic gold was a full four years ago now, she’s still on top of her game.
Team GB's Rowan Cheshire will be confident of qualifying for finals despite a tough past few years that have seen her battle head injuries, leave and return to the sport, and finally re-establish herself in the Team GB programme.
The FIS results so far show two golds for Cassie Sharpe, Brita Sigourney with a gold and a silver, Marie Martinod with one and Zhang Kevin with the win in Beijing, so the results of the women's ski halfpipe final will be super interesting, but we'd expect Cassie to come out on top.
What will it take to win halfpipe skiing?
To win the halfpipe skiing you’ll need to throw down a run which shouts style, shows variation, and - a point which annoys some people - likely has a whole lot of spins in it.
Let’s look at exactly what won the X Games superpipe in 2018 - a great way to give you an idea of what to expect.
American Maddie Bowman was the champion in the women’s category. Bowman started off her run with a clean U-grab, into a left-side 540 with a grab, a right side 720, into a switch left 900, into a right 540, into a left 900 with a grab and right 900 to finish.
The switch 900 was the standout trick in that run - and nailing a 900 with a grab was impressive as well.
In the men’s event, David Wise was the man to beat. His X Games-winning run included a huge drop in to switch (riding backwards), a switch double cork 1080 (right side), a double cork 12 (left side, with grab), a right side 1080, a switch double cork 1080 (left), and ended with a right side 1260.
Two different double corks, both done each way (left and right). It was a history making run.
What you can see from all this is that yes, the bigger the better, but variation is as important as sending it big as well.
For more information on halfpipe ski terms and what each trick means in more detail click here!
Winter Olympic Ski Cross
Ski cross is one of the most accessible sports at the Winter Olympic Games. The sport sees four skiers released down a single course (made from tight corners, jumps and rollers) at the same time, and the fastest two skiers from each race qualify for the next round.
This format continues until four skiers eventually end up in the final, and from there, the fastest skier takes the gold medal. Second gets silver, third gets bronze, and fourth place in the final goes home with nothing. It's exciting stuff.
Who are the Favourites and Medal Contenders for Ski Cross?
Ski cross is typically a European affair. Marc Bischofberger of Switzerland has a great shot at gold, as does Frenchman Jean Frederic Chapuis. Chapuis took the gold medal in Sochi as France claimed a sweep of the medals, and he’ll be hoping to retain it in Pyeongchang.
Alex Fiva is another Swiss hope, and Victor Oehling Norberg and Paul Eckert will be hoping to do the goods for Sweden and Germany as well.
Bischofberger has taken home three gold medals in the FIS World Cup (out of a possible nine) since the new season got started in December. Eckert is the most recent winner after his gold in Nakiska, Canada, and Chapuis took gold in Idre, Sweden before that.
We’d also never rule out Canadian skier Brady Leman. We spoke to Brady recently about his experience at the Sochi Games, where he finished fourth in the final of the ski cross, and he’s coming back to the event now with more experience and just as hungry as he was four years ago.
In the women’s category, Swede Sandra Näslund is the one to beat, and is a hot favourite going into the ski cross.
Sandra has come on leaps and bounds since her fifth-place finish in Sochi. She became Sweden's first world champion in ski cross when she won the FIS World Championships in 2017, and she’ll be hoping that translates to the Olympics this year.
As far as the 2017-18 ski cross season goes, Näslund has been absolutely dominant. She's won seven events (again, out of a possible nine) since the start of December, only losing out to Fanny Smith of Switzerland in Arosa (which is in Switzerland) and to Germany's Heidi Zacher in Innichen, Italy. She then competed again in Innichen the following day and won.
"As far as the 2017-18 ski cross season goes, Näslund has been absolutely dominant"
Behind Näslund, the podium favourites will be Heidi Zacher and Fanny Smith, though Mariell Berger Sabbatel of France will be confident of a medal too after taking two second place spots in FIS events in January.
It would be a shock to see any of them take the win ahead of Näslund, but ski cross is a discipline where crashes happen, and those crashes can take favourites out with them, so you never know how it’s going to go.
What will it take to win ski cross?
You need speed to win the ski cross. After all, it’s ultimately a racing event. There are no prizes for style or for tricks on the jumps. But despite all of that, speed probably isn’t as important as tactics and course management.
One of the most important moments in any ski cross race is the starting gate. If you’re the fastest out of the starting gates, then you’re at the front of the four skiers and in the best possible position to block your competitors from overtaking. Often the fastest person out the gate wins the race.
Of course, if you are first, then you still need to be able to pick the fastest lines, to prevent your rivals overtaking, and to maintain your speed over the jumps. If you’re not the fastest out the gates, you need to know where to overtake, and how to do it without crashing or causing a crash.