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Freestyle looks to the future

Retirements take toll, but young athletes stepping up; halfpipe on the horizon



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The women's aerials side is less developed, said Judge, although Veronika Bauer is returning for her 12th season. In the past year the team has lost Veronica Brenner and Deidre Dionne.

"Obviously, that's going to be a longer rebuild," said Judge. "Obviously we've got a formidable opponent in the Chinese, which is set up with a significant depth in their pool of athletes. It's going to take some time to work our way through to that group... it takes longer to catch up than it has in the past."

Judge says Canada has some strong prospects at the development level, but it's always a challenge to move forward with injuries.

The men's moguls squad will continue to be strong, even with the loss of Vincent Marquis and Maxime Gingras. Olympic champion Alex Bilodeau will continue to anchor the team, joined by veteran Pierre-Alexandre Rousseau. The retirements create more opportunities for members of the development team, which includes Mikael Kingsbury, Vincent's brother Philippe Marquis and Cedric Rochon. Eddie Hicks, who grew up skiing at Whistler, is also waiting in the wings.

The women's team will be more or less the same, with Jennifer Heil in for the season and Pemberton's Kristi Richards committing through 2014.  Chloe Dufour-Lapointe was fifth in the Olympics and with her sister, Maxime, will be on the World Cup circuit this year.

There is no shortage of talent waiting in the wings, including Audrey Robichaud, Justine Dufour-Lapointe (the youngest sister), Beatrice Bilodeau (Alex's younger sister) and Whistler's Chelsea Henitiuk, among others.

Financially, the team is in a strong position with commitments from major sponsors like Canada Post, Bell and RBC Royal Bank through 2012, and the return of the Own The Podium program.

"(Own the Podium) was a huge, systemic relief for all winter sports. It could have been a profoundly devastating situation if we didn't get that," said Judge. "Some sports are feeling it regardless, because there's this issue of sponsor fatigue after the Games - a lot of sponsors were ecstatic with what went on but they needed to regroup after the Games and establish what their priorities are. And we're still dealing with a difficult economy, where one of the first things to go is advertising and marketing budgets.

"We're fortunate enough to have some great events and great partners, and a good stable of properties that continue to support our needs. But after 2012 we'll have renewals coming up that we have to keep any eye on to ensure our long-term health and viability."

Judge also gave credit to the Quebec model for athlete development, which is leading the country in winter sports. In fact, Quebec athletes account for 24 of the 37 athletes on the roster, including development teams.