When Did Freestyle Skiing Become An Olympic Sport? [Answered!]

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The winter sports world was shocked when it heard the news that Alpine skier Sophie Chabot had tested positive for a banned substance in an out-of-competition control. She was one of only four skiers to test positive in the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. But with just a few days left until the end of the 2018 Winter Olympics, it’s time to reflect on the history of the Winter Olympic Games and the role that Alpine skiing played in that history.

First Winter Olympics

The first ever Winter Olympics was held in St. Moritz, Switzerland, in 1927. A total of 908 alpine skiing races were held over 10 days, with the men’s downhill and giant slalom events boasting the most competitors with 24 and 23 finishers respectively. Italy’s Felice Bonaparte won the gold in both the men’s downhill and giant slalom, while his Austrian opponent Ernst Kühner took home the silver.

The following year, the Winter Olympics were staged in Lake Placid, New York, where a total of 1,324 alpine skiing races were held between 20 and 28 February. The men’s downhill and giant slalom were again the marquee events, with the former attracting a who’s who of the 1920s and 1930s, including winners Otto Rau, Ernst Grunewald, Hannes Schneider, and Erich Wolfrum. Germany’s Kurt Richter won the gold in the giant slalom.

Second Winter Olympics

The Winter Olympics returned to Europe for the 1936 Olympics in Hitler’s Germany, where a total of 1,728 competitors took to the slopes in 273 events over 10 days. Racers were again restricted to a maximum of four runs—downhill, giant slalom, or ski-cross—with the first three individual events and the team event being the focus of the sport. German skier Otto Weiss won the gold in the downhill and giant slalom, while fellow countrymen Kurt Lang and Werner Lang took home the silver and bronze respectively.

Becomes An Olympic Sport

The Winter Olympics continued to grow in popularity, with the International Ski Federation (Fédération Internationale de Ski, or FIS) recognizing it as a sport in its own right. The sport gradually became known as Alpine skiing, with the first competition for the now-standard events being held in Leysin, Switzerland, in 1948. That same year, the Winter Olympics were also staged in Innsbruck, Austria, with the host country taking the gold in both the men’s downhill and giant slalom events. Austria’s Hannes Schneider won the silver in the latter, while Italy’s Carlo Jona won the bronze in the former.

The Winter Olympics continued to grow in popularity throughout the 1950s and 1960s, with the number of competitors taking to the slopes reaching its peak in the 1964 Winter Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria, where a total of 3,112 competitors took to the slopes in 268 events over 10 days. The downhill, giant slalom, and the combined results of both the giant slalom and downhill events formed the backbone of the sport, with Austria’s Ewald Hock claiming the gold in the latter two. Switzerland’s René Fasel was also a notable name on that year’s podium, taking the bronze in both the downhill and combined events.

Alpine Skiing In The 1980s

The popularity of Alpine skiing began to decline in the 1970s and 1980s, as the number of people taking up the sport reached its lowest point since World War II. The 1980 Winter Olympics were yet another example of this, with only 1,648 competitors taking part in the 282 events over 10 days. The downhill and giant slalom were the only events held, with gold medallist Gerhard Hinterhammer leading the German charge with silver and bronze going to Austria’s Hannes Schneider and Finland’s Esko Ilomaki respectively.

This was largely down to the fact that the equipment used at the time was extremely outdated compared to current standards. For example, the men’s downhill and giant slalom events were won using the now-discontinued FIS World Cup program, which featured a ski suit, ski boots, and a cap with a ski-specific design. Ilomaki used a scuba mask and flippers in his attempts to navigate the treacherous waters of the Downhill race.

Recent Developments In Alpine Skiing

The equipment in use at the time also restricted the amount of technical tricks that the skiers could perform. Today, Alpine skiing is undergoing a revival, with snowboarders continuing to push the boundaries of what is possible on the slopes. The 2017 Winter Olympics were a showcase of this, with the downhill, giant slalom, and super-trail events all being won by snowboarders. In fact, the inaugural men’s super-trail event was won by Switzerland’s Simon Ammann in February, with the last of the trio of Alpine skiing events being held in March. Although this was an exhibition event for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, the popularity of Alpine skiing continues to grow each year.

Why Is Alpine Skiing Popular Now?

Alpine skiing is popular now largely because of the equipment used in the sport. The latest generation of skiers enjoy pushing the boundaries of what is possible on the slopes, with snowboarders and those who use an intermediate ski-snowshoe combining elements of both the snowboard and ski to carve the most intricate and creative turns. The latest ski equipment also helps to make the experience as good as possible, with ski goggles providing the best possible vision in crisp, clear air and inflatable ski boots allowing for the most immersive experience while on the slopes.

Another factor that has helped to bring about the modern revival of Alpine skiing is the fact that the sport is now open to everyone. Gone are the days when only the truly elite could enjoy the thrills of skiing. Today, anyone can take up the sport and enjoy the challenging but rewarding experience that is Alpine skiing.

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