THE WINTER GAMES

‘Radical' New Moves

‘MACH II WITH YOUR HAIR ON FIRE’—HOTDOGGING GROWS UP

HAL QUINN February 3 1992
THE WINTER GAMES

‘Radical' New Moves

‘MACH II WITH YOUR HAIR ON FIRE’—HOTDOGGING GROWS UP

HAL QUINN February 3 1992

‘Radical' New Moves

THE WINTER GAMES

‘MACH II WITH YOUR HAIR ON FIRE’—HOTDOGGING GROWS UP

The 250-m course is pitched at a heart-stopping 28-degree angle. It runs down an Alpine mountainside dotted with about 60 moguls—mounds of rock-hard ice and snow as much as five feet high. On Feb. 12, over 70 freestyle skiers will thrust with their poles and propel themselves from the starting gate at Tignes, France, into that undulating white maze. Spraying ice chips and snow as they descend, knees pumping chest-high as they cross the hillocks, they will seek a high mound from which to launch themselves. After pirouetting or doing the splits while airborne, they will slam back into the hill, tracing as straight a descent line as they can manage, before flying off another big mogul. Launched again, travelling at up to 30 m.p.h. and 15 feet above the white blur of the slope below, they will spin and twist, before banging back into the final array of mounds before the finish line. Said Vancouver stockbroker John Johnston, chairman of the International Ski Federation freestyle skiing committee: “The skiers describe that final flight and landing as ‘Mach II with your hair on fire.’ ”

The best mogul skiers in the world will fire the imagination of a global television audience as they vie for Olympic medals for the first time ever. More than two decades after the first daring skiers combined acrobatics with the downhill run in what was then called “hotdog” skiing, freestyle skiers have finally scaled their Olympus.

The three disciplines—aerials, ballet and moguls— were non-medal “demonstration” sports at the last winter Olympiad in 1988 in Calgary. Aerials (high-divelike flips and turns after the

skier is launched from a ramp) and ballet (figure-skatinglike manoeuvres and flips choreographed to music and performed on a gentle slope) are demonstration sports again this year. But Johnston is determined that all three freestyle disciplines will be Olympic events when the next Winter Games are staged at Lillehammer, Norway, in 1994. Said Johnston, 41, one of the three original Canadian hotdog competitors: “There is no reason they shouldn’t be

full medal events. I will be doing a lot of lobbying next month in France.” It took Johnston six years of persistent pressure on ski federation officials to win freestyle skiing World Cup circuit status in 1980. The sport had first gained momentum after two skiers, Herman Goellner of Austria and American Tom Leroy, made a promotional film called Mobius Flip (named for a type of back-flip) for the American Hart Ski company. Johnston and his associates on Grouse Mountain in Vancouver, like many good young skiers across North America, were growing bored with simply getting to the bottom of a mountain. Inspired by the Hart film, they started trying to duplicate the stunts. By the following year, Chevrolet and a U.S. publication, Skiing magazine, sponsored three

competitive hotdog events. Recalled Johnston: “In the early days, it was just pull as many crazy things as you could to make the crowd scream.”

After a decade of injuries to skiers, organizational chaos and lawsuits among competing circuits, freestyle skiing under Johnston—its first and so far only international federation chairman—has evolved into three standardly É ** disciplines, with the ath-

• letes’ safety the top priority. JÍ There are now 13 annual 4 -: Hl#'* World Cup events in Europe,

North America and Japan, as well as the Olympics.

With early hotdog stars like Johnston, Wayne Wong of Vancouver, Darryl Bowie of Calgary and John Eaves from Quebec excelling in the 1980s, Canadians have stayed at the top of the sport. At Tignes, Jean-Luc Brassard, 19, of Grand-Ile, Que., the World Cup rookie of the year in 1991, is among the gold-medal favorites in the moguls. And aerialist Phig lippe LaRoche, 25, of Lac| Beauport, Que., is a potential ** winner in his demonstration

sport. In the women’s moguls, a U.S team led by Donna Weinbrecht, 27, could sweep all three medals. Johnston, the 1970s hotdogger, used the 1990s vernacular to express his excitement as his sport’s moment in the Olympic spotlight approached: “It’s going to be radical.” Given his track record, it could be three times as radical in 1994.

HAL QUINN