The International Olympic Committee confirmed this week that the sport of ski and snowboard slopestyle can be added to the schedule of the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, adding four new medal events with both men and women competing.
As well, they confirmed a second alpine snowboarding event with men's and women's parallel slalom to accompany the parallel giant slalom.
The sport of ski halfpipe was added back in April but the IOC deferred its decision on slopestyle until the organization could confirm that the organizing committee in Russia could supply the required venue. Unlike halfpipe, which is already in use for snowboarding, slopestyle requires a dedicated area of the mountain to place different types of jumps, rails and other park riding features. As the host responsible for housing and securing athletes, Russia also has the final word on whether to include new events or not.
"We are very pleased with the addition of ski and snowboard slopestyle and snowboard special slalom in the Olympic Winter Games program," said IOC president Jacques Rogge on Monday, July 4. "Such events provide great entertainment for the spectators and add further youthful appeal to our already action-packed lineup of Olympic winter sports. We look forward to welcoming all the athletes to Sochi in 2014."
Back in April, the IOC also confirmed that women's ski jumping, biathlon mixed relay, a figure skating team event and a luge team relay would be on the 2014 calendar.
The announcements were good news for Canada, which has solid contenders in ski and snowboard slopestyle.
In snowboarding, Sebastien Toutant of Quebec - who was in Whistler on the weekend where he finished second in the Billabong Ante Big Air - is the current Winter X Games slopestyle champion and one of the top-ranked slopestyle riders in the world.
On the women's side, Whistler's Spencer O'Brien placed 10th at Winter X Games.
As for skiers, Canada has solid contenders on both the men's and women's side of the field. The top men include the Gagnier brothers, Vincent and Charles, Phil Casabon, T.J. Schiller and J.F. Houle among others. On the women's side, Kaya Turski is the X Games ski slopestyle champion and was second in the FIS World Championships. Other contenders include Dania Assaly, Kim Lamarre, Maude Raymond and even Pemberton's Yuki Tsubota, who placed sixth in the World Skiing Invitational this year.
In a statement, Turski said, "I'm stoked to be part of a sport that represents a younger generation that that's going to be way cool to watch during the Olympics," she said. "I think it will be an eye opener for a lot of people. I feel good about repping' Canada. I can't wait."
The Canadian Freestyle Ski Association and Canada-Snowboard released a joint statement on Monday to celebrate the decision and assure Canadians that they are ready to expand their organizations to include the slopestyle athletes.
"This is the best outcome we could have hoped for," said Peter Judge, CEO of the freestyle ski association. "Canada is one of the leading nations in this sports based on the independent commitment of athletes who have been pushing their limits in terrain parks across the country and representing Canada at international events. We have been working with the community and have already identified talent and secured Own The Podium funding to help Canadian athletes be in the best position possible in Sochi."
Steven Hills, the interim CEO for Canada-Snowboard, recognized the fact that most of the athletes have been doing it on their own leading up to the announcement.
"I have tremendous respect for the Canadian snowboard slopestyle athletes who have been out on the world pro circuit representing Canada so successfully," he said. "Their accomplishments bode well for our medal potential in Sochi. But even more than that, this development means that kids from small resorts across the country can realistically work towards an Olympic snowboard dream."
As for parallel slalom, Canada's alpine snowboard team is in a good place despite the recent retirements of Jasey Jay Anderson and Alexa Loo. Matthew Morison, Michael Lambert and Caroline Calve have all been on World Cup podiums, and there are a number of strong riders coming up the ranks.