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Skiercross wins IOC approval

VANOC to make final decision over whether to include sport in 2010

By Andrew Mitchell

Whistler’s Ashleigh McIvor is closer than ever to her dream of competing for Canada in the 2010 Olympic Winter Games.

On Tuesday the International Olympic Committee’s executive board reviewed several proposals for new Olympic sports, turning all of them down with the exception of skiercross. Already a World Cup and World Championship event, its inclusion into the freestyle schedule was considered a sure thing given the popularity of snowboardcross, which made its Olympic debut in 2006.

Whether the sport of skiercross will be included in the 2010 Olympic Winter Games is yet to be determined, with the Vancouver Organizing Committee making the final decision.

According to Cathy Priestner Allinger, the executive vice president of sport, Paralympic Games and venue management for VANOC, the sport is a good fit for the Games if the logistics make sense.

“We need to look at what sort of impact (skiercross) would have on the competition schedule and the venues, and the need to pre-set snow days as a contingency, and we’re working with the International Ski Federation to make sure the schedule works,” she said.

“There are also discussions of quotas at IOC and FIS that may have some impact on this. Operationally there’s very little impact for us, we’ve already determined that skiercross would take place on the same course as the snowboardcross with a few minor tweaks, moving snow around and that kind of thing.”

VANOC will also have to provide housing for 32 qualified men, 16 qualified women, and various coaches and officials — a total of 100 extra bodies. Because the snowboardcross course is being built at Cypress Mountain, additional beds may have to be added to Vancouver athletes’ village — something Priestner Allinger thinks is possible at this stage.

“There’s more flexibility with the Vancouver village than with the village in Whistler where the numbers are more limited,” said Priestner Allinger. As well, ticket sales for the event should more than cover any additional costs of keeping the snowboardcross course open for skiers.

The fact that Canadian skiers have always done well in the sport at the international level is also being taken into account.

“We’ve done our homework on this already, and we’ve already indicated our position prior to the IOC decision,” said Priestner Alligner. “Now we have to work with FIS and the IOC to make sure it has a minimal financial and operational impact. I’m sure we can do it, but we need to sit down and work it through.”

She hopes to finish those discussions with FIS and the IOC by the end of the year, and present it to the VANOC board for approval in January.

According to Peter Judge, CEO for the Canadian Freestyle Ski Association, it should be possible to have a national program up and running by next season with more formalized coaching and administration.

“Right now it’s kind of a loose cannon, or a dangling participle,” he said. “There’s going to be some scrambling now to figure out the whats and the wheres of putting a program and structure in place — who will be managed and how they will be managed will also be dealt with.

“It must be pretty exciting for the skiers. It’s not every day a new Olympic sport is born, and a lot of athletes have spent a lot of time and energy to make this work. A lot of Whistler-based athletes are right up there as well, at the top of the sport and I’m happy for them.”

Currently the CFSA receives money from Sport Canada and Own The Podium for mogul skiing and aerials, although ski halfpipe and big air events also fall under the freestyle banner since FIS decided to expand the program in 2003. Although there are now regular World Cup events for halfpipe and skiercross, athletes in both sports tend to focus on pro events, and few national freestyle programs can fund or otherwise support the athletes.

That will change if skiercross is an official sport in 2010, says Judge.

“Sport Canada is one of the parties we will have to have a discussion with, and Own The Podium is another one,” he said. “We will need to have discussions with our corporate sponsors as well, and right now we don’t know how things are going to go.

“Freestyle had to walk this same road. When it was not an Olympic sport freestyle got nothing, then it was included in the Olympics but it wasn’t really considered in the mix yet, there was some old guard resistance to it. I assume, though I hope not, that skiercross will have some of the same stumbling blocks.

“After this year it should be a lot easier, once we can get some support from Sport Canada I think the corporate support would follow. As for Own The Podium, it should be easy to build the case that there are medals on the table for Canada.”

Whistler’s McIvor, who has several medals to her credit in pro skiercross events, has been waiting for this announcement for a long time.

“This is obviously huge news for the sport and myself,” she said. “Given the success of the introduction of snowboardcross into the Games, it’s very welcome news that we have all been looking forward to. It’s exciting to hear that I, and many other local athletes, now have the potential to compete in the Olympics in 2010.”

McIvor was born and raised in Whistler, and was a ski racer until she got into the sport of skiercross. Her top results include a first and second place finish in U.S. Open competitions; a first, two seconds and a third place finish at Saab Salomon Crossmax competitions, a second in a World Cup race in Switzerland, a win in the Subaru Rocky Mountain Skiercross, and two top-10 results in two appearances at the X-Games.

“I realize there is still a long way to go before being named to a team, but I am going to do everything in my power to become an Olympian and represent Canada,” she said.

“There is a lot of groundwork to be done. There is no national team, no provincial team, no coaching, and no funding, and we are going to be in a catch-up position as there are a number of countries in Europe who are already funding at a national level.”

If it sounds like McIvor has given the idea a lot of thought, it’s because she has. For a university project, McIvor even wrote an argumentative essay to the IOC on why skiercross should be included in the Olympics.

Other Canadians who have had international success in skiercross include Squamish’s Aleisha Cline and Anik DeMeers on the women’s side, and Whistler’s David Barr and Brian Bennett on the men’s side.

Proposed sports rejected by the IOC this week include biathlon mixed relay, a bobsleigh and skeleton team event, a luge team event, an alpine skiing team event, mixed doubles curling and women’s ski jumping — although mixed doubles curling and women’s ski jumping will be considered again once they are more developed. In addition, the IOC rejected proposals to consider ski orienteering, ski mountaineering and winter triathlons for the 2014 Olympic Winter Games.