Newest sport to make debut 

The newest Olympic sport makes its debut this afternoon when men's ski cross gets underway. The International Olympic Committee wants to stay as relevant as possible. One way to do that is to promote sports that young people want to watch. How about four skiers racing in a tight pack at speeds of 50 mph over a course filled with sharp twists and turns and plenty of big jumps? Thought so.

Qualification heats winnow a field of 16 or 32 racers -- competing four at a time -- down to the medalists. It often resembles pure chaos, and that's exactly the appeal.

"I think that younger look and feel will become more and more a part of what the Olympics are like," said Bill Marolt, president of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association.

Marolt noted that 6,000 fans turned out for a USSSA freestyle skiing event in Deer Valley, Utah, last month. The popularity of freestyle events like moguls, aerials and ski cross is only rising -- as shown by ESPN's Winter X Games. Americans Casey Puckett (shoulder) and Daron Rahlves (hip) are both strong medal contenders with previous Olympic experience in Alpine skiing. Unfortunately, they are both dealing with recent injuries as well.

"You have NASCAR, motocross and bull riding," Rahlves said when asked to describe his new sport. "Or maybe a cabby in New York trying to race through traffic and not crash. That's kind of what we're trying to do out there."

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Brian McNally


I've been given the chance to write about some of the best athletes in the world. Can't imagine a job more fun than that.
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