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Aerials Team Takes to the Skies

World Cup Season Starts Saturday

Dreams of representing Canada at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games propel all eight members of the World Cup freestyle aerials ski team into the 2009-10 season. With the first World Cup event set for Dec. 19 in Changchun, China, three preliminary spots on the full freestyle squad are already claimed by 2006 Olympic champion Jenn Heil (moguls), two-time Olympian Steve Omischl (aerials) and 2009 world ski cross champion Ashleigh McIvor. After them, 15 spots remain before the final team is nominated in late January – up to eight of which can come from aerials.

With a strong contingent of veteran aerialists and five World Cup aerial competitions left before the Games, securing an Olympic berth will be top of mind for the skiers. One hopeful facing an uphill climb is Toronto’s Veronika Bauer.

Bauer has been sidelined for 10 months while battling symptoms of a concussion suffered earlier in the year. But the veteran will take to the hills again. She boasts an impressive 18 career World Cup medals (four gold), a dozen years on the Canadian team, and is a two-time Olympian – and motivated for a third try at the podium.

Men’s Team

Boasting a phenomenal resume and the only aerialist thus far to be pre-selected for the Olympic Team, Steve Omisch (North Bay, Ont.) is definitely one to watch. A 2006 and 2002 Olympian, four-time World Championship medallist (including 2005 champion) and four-time World Cup aerials champion, Omischl is poised to be a strong podium contender in 2010.

But Omischl’s talents are not the only factor in a strong aerials team. Bringing serious momentum is seasoned veteran Ryan Blais (Grand Prairie, Alta.), who was fourth overall on the 2006 World Cup circuit and is reining national champion. Blais is a sure fighter for an Olympic ticket after narrowly missing selection for Torino 2006.

Rounding out the men is Calgarian Kyle Nissen, 5th at the 2006 Olympic Winter Games and 4th overall in World Cup rankings last season. Keep an eye out for comeback-kid, Warren Shouldice (Calgary), 6th at the 2006 Games after bouncing back from a life-threatening neck injury sustained in 2002. Sophomore skier Olivier Rochon (Gatineau, QC) is looking to build on the four Nor-Am gold medals he won last season.

Women’s Team

This season will certainly start out different than it has in the past due to health issues for its two leaders. Bauer will attempt to come back from the concussion. And Deidra Dionne (North Battleford, Sask.) was forced to retire in October with a non-cancerous brain tumour.

The women’s team features a mix of veteran and younger aerials skiers. Leading the troop of high-flying skiers is Amber Peterson (Thunder Bay, Ont.), who won her first World Cup medal in 2006 at Lake Placid, ensuring her an Olympic spot that year. (She finished 15th.) The Canadian champion for the past four years, Peterson seeks to spread that success on the international circuit.

Two other Olympic hopefuls are Sabrina Guerin (Montreal) – 2009 FIS Rookie of the Year – and Genevieve Tougas (Montreal). If Tougas can repeat the success she displayed in 2009, winning the Nor Am Grand Prix, placing 2nd at the Canadian Championships and collecting three 1st-place Nor Am Cup finishes, she could enjoy an excellent season.

Freestyle aerial skiing has been an Olympic sport since 1994. Aerialists speed down ramps (usually built of wood and or metal) covered with snow, which propels them up to 40 to 50 feet in the air. Skiers perform multiple flips and twists before landing on a 34- to 39-degree inclined landing hill about 100 feet in length. They are judged on jump takeoff (20%), jump form (50%) and landing (30%). Olympic competition for Canada’s freestyle aerials team runs Feb.20 and 24 for women and Feb.22 and 25 for men.

If last year’s World Cup results are any indication as to how this year’s will be, then you can rest assure that the Canadian Team will be on the podium in 2009-10.