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Freestyle's evolution



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At the same time freestyle was imploding ski racing was making a comeback. Franz Klammer’s breathtaking run at the 1976 Olympics in Innsbruck and four upstart Canadians, dubbed the Crazy Canucks, dragged the spotlight from freestyle to downhill racing. Some vestige of a pro freestyle tour remained, but Johnston decided the only hope for the future was to go amateur.

"We had to grow freestyle into the national ski federations system," he says. "We conformed, they accepted."

But it wasn’t as simple as that. Johnston approached the International Ski Federation about taking freestyle under its umbrella in 1975. It was a tough sell to most of the conservative, grey-haired members of the FIS, but he felt it was the only way if international standards for safety – particularly in aerials – were ever to be established.

"It was a great game of chess," he says of the four-year struggle to gain acceptance from the FIS. But he gives credit to former president Marc Hodler for having the vision to see freestyle should come under the jurisdiction of the International Ski Federation. In the spring of 1979 Johnston became the first chairman of the FIS Freestyle Committee. Now 50, he was until a couple of years ago the only chairman the committee had ever had. He is still an honourary member of the committee.

At the same time he was playing chess with the FIS Johnston was working with the Canadian Ski Association to develop regional amateur competitions and establish ranking systems similar to those used in ski racing, so that freestyle competitors could work their way up to provincial and national competitions.

In 1978 the first Canadian national freestyle team was formed, and on Jan. 26, 1979 the first Can-Am Amateur Freestyle event was held at Edelweiss Valley, near Ottawa. The American team, still struggling with liability issues, was forbidden to execute inverted or 720-degree jumps. The overall champion of that meet was a fellow named Greg Stump.

Johnston’s FIS Freestyle Committee hammered together a freestyle World Cup circuit by the fall of 1980 and launched it in 1981. Still smarting from the collapse of the pro tours in the mid-70s, World Cup freestyle struggled to attract corporate sponsorship. But in 1983 the FIS approved a freestyle world championship competition, the next requirement for Olympic acceptance. The first world championships were held in Tignes, France in 1986.

"It took a decade to rebuild the sport," Johnston recalls. "Poor economics, insurance risks, a stagnant ski industry, liability, were all hurdles. The IOC, the FIS, the National Ski Areas Association, insurance companies, the media – they all had to be convinced in the ’80s."

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