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Freestyle looks to the future

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



The Canadian Freestyle Ski Association wrapped up the 2009-2010 season with two Olympic medals in moguls, near misses in moguls and aerials, and their fifth consecutive overall Nations Cup title.

This year will be a little different for the team, with several high profile athletes retiring at the end of last season - including regular medalists Steve Omischl, Kyle Nissen, Vincent Marquis and Maxime Gingras.

According to CFSA CEO Peter Judge, it's typical to see turnover of athletes following an Olympic Games as athletes defer retirement to go for medals. He's not worried about the team retaining the Nation's Cup title.

"That's one of the things that takes care of itself, our job is to focus on the task of producing a good, consistent program and depth in each of the disciplines, so we'll have that strength at the end of the day," Judge said.

"To focus on (the Nation's Cup) is a bit of a numbers game. But certainly we'll call this a rebuilding year, and certainly a revitalizing year, as athletes renew their commitment and get their heads back into the whole chase again."

Judge says the retirements were not a surprise, given that some of the athletes have competed in two or three Olympic Games.

"We're dealing with a group that has been around for a long time, and they knew they were reaching the end," said Judge.

On the men's aerials side, the loss of Omischl and Nissen will be significant, but Judge says the team is still in a good position with Ryan Blais and Warren Shouldice in the mix for this year and Shouldice committing to the team through 2014.

"(Shouldice) is coming off a bronze in the last world's, which speaks volumes for his potential moving forward, and there are a lot of good guys underneath as a result of the development programs we've instituted," said Judge.

"It's always tough when you lose key people like Kyle Nissen or Steve Omischl, but Steve's come back already and is starting to contribute at another level."

That other level was coaching a summer trampoline and water ramp program in Whistler, mostly comprised of local boys. Judge says that program is on a temporary hiatus through the winter but he would like to see Whistler develop a grass roots program similar to Quebec's using facilities like the water ramps and legacies from the Games such as the Oros Whistler Gymnastics Centre, the High Performance Centre, the athletes' housing - even the ski jumps, where Judge says they might host an aerials training camp over the winter.