WORDS: Devon O’Neil
The first Summer Olympics was held in Olympia, Greece, in 776 B.C., followed five Bob Barker lifetimes later by the inaugural Winter Games in 1924 in Chamonix, France, the birthplace of alpinism. In 2014, 2,790 years after the Games’ inception, the Winter Olympics are held in Sochi, Russia, a subtropical beach town on the Black Sea. But more than bikinis, spectators are looking forward to the debut of halfpipe and slopestyle, making them one of the most anticipated Winter Games in history. A lot has happened to get us here, not all of it pretty. A brief list of skiing’s most memorable Olympic moments:
1924: Inaugural Winter Games includes an event called “military patrol,” involving skiers racing up and down the French Alps with guns on their backs and shooting. It later becomes more civilized and is coined the biathlon.
1952: American Andrea Mead Lawrence wins the slalom in Oslo, one of her two gold medals that year, despite falling on her first run.
1964: In a tightly contested slalom at Innsbruck, Austria, Billy Kidd and Jimmie Heuga win silver and bronze, respectively, making them the first American men to earn Olympic medals in skiing. A decade later, a ski historian discovers that Norwegian-born ski jumper and bricklayer Anders Haugen, who captained the 1924 U.S. Olympic ski team, had been scored incorrectly and slotted in fourth place instead of third. Haugen, then 86, is awarded the bronze 50 years after he won it, making him the first American man to earn an Olympic medal in skiing.
1984: Brazen upstart Bill Johnson, 23, predicts his Olympic downhill victory a month in advance then backs up the claim in Sarajevo. When asked what it meant to win the biggest event in winter sports, he replied, “Millions,” causing sports fans everywhere to love and rue him forever. Meanwhile, the Mahre twins sweep the top two spots in slalom, famously trading places from Run 1 to Run 2, but fail to attract the same level of interest because no one can tell them apart.
1998: When her wax tech notices a straighter-than-usual course set, Picabo Street decides to use downhill skis in the Nagano Super G and wins gold, the only Super G victory of her World Cup or Olympic career. Two Austrian women copy her ski selection and win silver and bronze. Street’s margin of victory, one hundredth of a second, remains the narrowest in Olympic history.
2002: Puerto Rico-born Jonny Moseley unofficially launches the “progression” movement in competitive skiing. Less interested in defending his 1998 Olympic moguls title than introducing the world to his controversial “Dinner Roll,” an off-axis 720 that he petitioned F.I.S. to allow, Moseley sticks the trick in the final but finishes fourth. No matter, spurred by Moseley’s bravado, F.I.S. lifts its ban on inverted aerials the following year.
2006: Longshot Antoine Dénériaz of France stuns the world by winning the Torino downhill by a decisive 0.72 seconds. One month later, Dénériaz crashes, becomes terrified of big jumps and abruptly retires the following season, confirming a long-running rumor that sports are 90 percent mental.
2010: Aerials ace Jeret “Speedy” Peterson, whose last words before each run were “Come on, bitch,” lands his patented trick, the Hurricane, to claim silver at Cypress Mountain in British Columbia. The Hurricane remains the most daring maneuver in ski competition history: a triple upright backflip with five twists, three of them during the middle flip. No skier other than Peterson, who committed suicide in July 2011, has ever landed it.
2011: The I.O.C. approves the addition of halfpipe skiing for the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, coinciding with the addition of women’s ski jumping, whose stars had unsuccessfully sued to get into the 2010 Games. Three months later, slopestyle skiing and snowboarding are added to the 2014 docket, bringing the number of events to a record 98 and guaranteeing gaffes by announcers trying to define the word “jibber.”