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Freestyle's evolution

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The IOC – the International Olympic Committee – was one of the last groups to be convinced. But before they could even be reached the organizing committee for the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary had to be persuaded of freestyle’s worthiness. After extensive lobbying by Johnston and Pat Judge, father of former Canadian team head coach Peter Judge, the organizers decided to include freestyle as a demonstration sport at Calgary. The aerials competition drew crowds of 80,000, which prompted one IOC member to comment that attracting so many spectators wasn’t proper and perhaps freestyle was too successful.

In May of 1988 the FIS Congress was held in Istanbul, Turkey. Johnston was to present a report on freestyle at the Olympics on a Sunday morning. The Friday before that presentation Johnston got a phone call from Jean Claude Killy. The French ski racing legend was chairman of the committee organizing the Olympics in Albertville, France in 1992 – and he had a problem.

All the alpine ski racing events were scheduled for Killy’s hometown of Val d’Isere, and a few other resorts in the Savoie region, but Tignes – right next door to Val d’Isere – had nothing. Being owned by a large French bank, Tignes had the power to demand some Olympic events; in particular it wanted the women’s alpine events.

Killy saw the solution to his dilemma in freestyle. He called Johnston in Istanbul to see if he needed any help in his presentation to the FIS Congress.

"I said, ‘well sure Jean Claude, I can always use some help’," Johnston recalls.

To which Killy replied: "Would you mind if I come to your presentation?"

The Frenchman and an entourage of advisors flew from France to Istanbul the next day.

"So I walk into the FIS Congress – which is like walking in to face the Inquisition – and Killy is walking in with me," Johnston says. "It made an impression."

Johnston’s written report on the success of freestyle at Calgary was submitted earlier, so the Congress asked if either of them had any comments on freestyle within the Olympics.

"Killy stood up and waxed eloquently about the state of freestyle and how necessary it was to the Albertville Olympics for about five minutes," Johnston says. "Then Marc Hodler says ‘do you have anything to add?’ and I just said ‘no’."

Later that day Hodler ran into Johnston in the hotel lobby and said the FIS Congress would be recommending to the IOC that one freestyle discipline be included as an official sport at the 1992 Olympics.

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