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Freestyle to broaden horizons



New school events on FIS calendar sparking controversy

While the winter is still months away for most of us, the season is already in full swing south of the equator. The first event on the Federation Internationale de Ski (FIS) Freestyle calendar, back-to-back aerial events at Australia’s Mount Buller on Sept. 7 and 8, is just around the corner.

With this being a World Championship season for the FIS freestylers, an event that takes place every two years, the organizers are looking into new ways to bring more excitement and exposure to the sport.

At the World Championships in Whistler in 2001, FIS added a new demonstration skier big air event to the calendar to liven things up a bit.

While nobody owns the big air format, that decision drew harsh criticism and a boycott from new school freeskiers who felt that their most creative event was being hijacked by a sports organization that is notorious for its strict rules and regulations. In fact, a lot of the new school athletes are former FIS freestyle competitors who fled the circuit because of all the rules and joined the new school skiing movement.

They had already watched the FIS take control of snowboarding, and all of the changes and controversies that arose in trying to hammer all sizes and shapes of athletes into uniformly square holes. In the end, the snowboarders have won a lot of concessions from the FIS, but they had to make a lot of concession themselves.

As a result of the boycott, the first FIS skier big air event only brought out a handful of teenagers, and freestylers on the provincial and development teams. Some of the professional new schoolers watched from the sidelines, heckling the judges and the announcer.

The FIS has since held big air and quarterpipe ski events, but so far these events have been exhibition. There were no official new school events on the FIS Freestyle World Cup calendar, although the FIS Snowboard World Cup has started to award medals and FIS points for their own big air contests, and has been running its own snowboard cross circuit for years.

All of that will change this season. At the 43 rd annual FIS Congress in Portoroz, Slovenia, in June, the FIS Freestyle body announced one important change: Skier cross and halfpipe would be recognized as new disciplines, and will be included in the Freestyle World Championships. Likely they will be demonstration sports at the upcoming 2003 World Championships at Deer Valley, but they will be recognized as full medal sports by the next championships in 2005.

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