Which X sport will be the next Olympic sport? | AspenTimes.com

Which X sport will be the next Olympic sport?

Nate Peterson

ASPEN – When the Winter Olympics land in Vancouver in 2010, 16-year-old Aspen local Jordan Karlinski would love to represent her country in the inaugural Olympic snowboarding slopestyle final for women.

That is, of course, if there is such a thing.

Currently, slopestyle isn’t part of the Olympic program for skiing or snowboarding. But, as evidenced by the debut of boardercross at the Winter Olympics next month in Bardonecchia, Italy, there is the possibility of more sports with Winter X ties earning Olympic status in the future. At least a number of Winter X athletes, including some who will be competing in Turin, thought there was a possibility on Friday during interviews in between qualifying runs.

“Slopestyle would open up so many doors for other women and men,” Karlinski said after making the cut of 18 for today’s boardercross competition. “It would be really cool to see.”

Todd Richards thinks snowboarding slopestyle in the Olympics would be cool, too, but he also thinks it won’t happen.

A living legend in the sport of snowboarding who competed in the first Olympic halfpipe competition in Nagano, Japan, in 1998, Richards believes the International Olympic Committee won’t select a new Olympic sport for another five to 10 years.

In 2002, the committee developed new selection criteria, which included putting a cap on the number of sports selected into the Olympic program.

If the committee is to add a new sport, it would likely mean crossing off another, and Richards doesn’t think that’s going to happen.

Thus, no skiing halfpipe, or snowboarding slopestyle, or skiercross to compliment the fast-paced action of boardercross.

“They talked about adding (snowboarding) slopestyle, but they already think they have enough sports,” Richards said Friday at the bottom of the slopestyle course after failing to qualify for today’s men’s final in his eighth Winter X Games appearance. “They don’t want to put any more judged events in.”

Aspen local Casey Puckett, a veteran of four Olympics who retired from the U.S. Ski Team in 2002, thinks otherwise. Puckett spends most of his time these days coaching athletes at the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club, but he still competes regularly in skiercross and counts his Winter X Games gold medal in 2004 as one of the highlights of his career.

He didn’t scoff at the notion of returning to the Olympics for a fifth time in 2010 ” at the age of 37″ to race in what would be an inaugural skiercross.

“I think with the Olympics and the FIS (International Federation of Skiing), they’re always on the lookout for new stuff,” Puckett said after laying down the fastest qualifying time heading into today’s final rounds. “Getting snowboarding into the Olympics has generated a lot of interest and I think skiercross could do the same. It has a big following in Europe, where it’s really well respected.”

Skiercross, like boardercross, is very easy to understand for casual observers of winter sports in the Olympics ” which adds to its appeal, Puckett said. It doesn’t get any simpler than the first one to cross the finish line wins.

Basalt local Jason Smith, who will compete in boardercross for the U.S. at his first Olympics next month, agreed with Puckett’s reasoning.

Smith wouldn’t speculate as to the exact reasons why the IOC announced boardercross would be added to the Winter Olympics three years ago, but noted that boardercross’ TV friendly format was most likely a big part of the equation.

“It’s definitely an exciting event and it’s easy to understand. The first person down wins ” that’s as easy as it gets,” Smith said. “For people watching who don’t know a lot about snowboarding, it’s easier to understand compared to something like halfpipe where there are so many different tricks to learn.”

“It’s fast paced and makes for a good show,” added Canadian national snowboard team member Maelle Ricker, who will compete in boardercross in Turin. “It had credibility before the World Cup, but I think with the Olympics, it’s kind of given it a rebirth.”

Ricker’s teammate Erin Simmons said there’s no denying that IOC is taking a cue from the Winter X Games, which has grown in popularity each year since its inception 10 years ago. In 1996, the Winter X Games was seen as a novelty, and the staying power of events such as halfpipe snowboarding was an unknown.

But there’s no arguing with growing TV ratings, Simmons said.

“It looks totally appealing to kids,” Simmons said. “I always want to believe they see the ratings from the X Games and that they’re looking for the next thing. They’re seeing where the sports are progressing.”

Added Puckett: ” You never know what’s going to happen. Twenty years from now, we might be thinking, ‘What is this downhill thing they used to do 20 years ago?'”

Nate Peterson’s e-mail address is npeterson@aspentimes.com. For additional Winter X Games coverage, go to summitdaily.com/xgames.

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