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Posted: Oct 26, 7:35p ET | Updated: Feb 9, 2:28p ET

Freestyle skiing: What to expect

Freestyle skiing achieved full Olympic status when moguls was contested as a medal event in 1992. Aerials was added two years later in Lillehammer, and in Vancouver freestyle skiing boasts the only two new events on the Olympic program: men's and women's ski cross. Here are some storylines worth following:

Veteran Alpine racer Daron Rahlves has made the switch to ski cross for Vancouver.
Veteran Alpine racer Daron Rahlves has made the switch to ski cross for Vancouver.

Olympics' newest event attracts old racers
The United States is likely to be very competitive in men's ski cross, fueled by two former U.S. Alpine ski racers. Daron Rahlves is the most successful speed event skier in U.S. history - he won 12 World Cup races and one world championship title. He retired following yet another disappointing Olympic Games in Torino, but Rahlves' career was reborn when he decided to take up ski cross. After crashing out early and often he won his first ski cross title, the 2008 Winter X Games. It was only his sixth competition. Even at age 36, he is a legitimate threat to win in 2010.

A four-time Olympian in Alpine skiing (1992, 1994, 1998, 2002), 37-year-old Casey Puckett believes he enters Vancouver with his best chance at an Olympic medal in his new sport. Puckett was fifth at the 2009 World Championships and was the 2004 and 2007 X Games ski cross champion.

Both Puckett (shoulder) and Rahlves (hip), however, were injured in crashes just weeks before the Opening Ceremony. They are still expected to compete, but may not be 100 percent.

The United States has no competitors in women's ski cross. Look for France's Ophelie David, the most dominant figure in the sport, to be the gold medal favorite at Cypress.

Men's Aerials - St. Onge, Speedy and Steve
A rising star on the U.S. aerials team, Ryan St. Onge had the best season of his career in 2008-09, winning both the U.S. Nationals and the world title. He's been on skis since age two, when his parents, who were then ski coaches, put him on the slopes even though the boots went past his knees. St. Onge's world championship win was no fluke - he won two World Cup events and finished second in the season standings last winter.

Jeret "Speedy" Peterson was runner-up to teammate Ryan St. Onge in the World Cup standings last season.
Jeret "Speedy" Peterson was runner-up to teammate Ryan St. Onge in the World Cup standings last season.

Jeret 'Speedy' Peterson finished third in the World Cup standings last season. The Boise, Idaho, native competed in his second Olympics in Torino, finishing seventh before getting sent home following "an altercation with an acquaintance from the United States," in the words of team officials. He considers himself a much humbler person now, in part because he's fallen on hard times after his real estate investments collapsed last year forcing him to declare bankruptcy. Peterson is talented enough to score with the top international competitors from China and Canada, but his medal hopes ride as much in his approach as his physical ability. His "Hurricane" is technically no longer the most difficult trick in the world - there are other combinations that would score more points, but no one has done them yet. While Peterson may be a humbler man, his approach to competition has not changed. He likely would have won a medal if he chose a more conservative trick in Torino. "I don't want to win a gold medal and only have given 92 percent," he said. "I'd rather end up seventh, like I did in Torino, and give 110 percent, because at the end of the day I walk away knowing that I gave everything that I had."

Canada's Steve Omischl won the 2008-09 World Cup title and finished second to St. Onge at Worlds. He will be a top contender for gold - a distinction that comes with a lot of pressure at a home Olympics.

St. Onge, Peterson and Omischl will face tough competition from China's Han Xiaopeng, the reigning Olympic champion and 2007 world champion, as well as Belarus' Anton Kushnir, the current World Cup leader.

China could sweep women's aerials
China showed the world it was a summer sports power in Beijing, and Vancouver could showcase just how much a rising winter power the world's most populous nation is. The Chinese aerialists possess unmatched depth and difficulty the world over - five Chinese women placed in the top ten of the 2008-09 World Cup standings. Tops among them is Torino silver medalist and three-time world champion Li Nina. How technically superior is Li? Her two-flip combinations surpass the scores of her competitors' triple jumps. The Chinese aerialists are coached by Dustin Wilson, a former World Cup competitor for Canada and former coach of the Australian national team.

Cooper's last stand?
Australia's Jacqui Cooper is one of the pioneers of women's aerials. She has won everything there is to win in the sport, except an Olympic medal. Vancouver will be her fourth Olympics (1994, 1998, 2006) - she qualified for Salt Lake but a training crash the week before the Games left her unable to compete - and she has had to shake off several injuries in recent years, but if she is healthy come February, there will be no bigger sentimental favorite in the sport than Cooper.

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Freestyle skiing: What to expect

Freestyle skiing: What to expect

Looking for high-flying, fast-paced and treacherous? Search no further than freestyle skiing, which adds the newest Olympic event - ski cross - to its daredevil agenda in Vancouver.


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