Skicross Makes Its Olympic Debut

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Skicross has been popular on the X Game circuit because it is fast and dangerous. In skicross, four skiers race shoulder to shoulder, jockeying for position, flying through the air off jumps and navigating sharp turns, all at freeway speed. Switzerland's Michael Schmid won the gold medal.


After years as America's most famous skier, Bode Miller has finally won an Olympic gold medal. It came yesterday in the super combined competition.

Mr. BODE MILLER (U.S. Olympic Skier): The gold medal is great. I think it's perfect. Ideally, that's what everyone's shooting for. But the way I skied in these last races is what matters. I would have been proud of that skiing with a medal or not.

MONTAGNE: It's certainly better than Bode Miller's performance in the last Olympics, where he won no medals and received more attention for partying than skiing. Sunday's triumph gave him his third medal at the Vancouver games.

Elsewhere at the games, yesterday, a new Olympic sport, skicross, debuted. Skicross has been popular on the adrenaline-charged X Game circuit because it is fast and dangerous and filled with jumps, bumps and sharp turns. NPR's Howard Berkes was there.

HOWARD BERKES: The announcer and the crowd were certainly excited.

Unidentified Man #1: (unintelligible). On your feet, make some noise. This is the debut of (unintelligible).

BERKES: Four thousand screaming people jammed the grandstand at Cypress Mountain outside Vancouver to watch the newest Olympic sport. They have the announcer to explain and a billboard-sized TV screen to show the action because most of the steep, bumpy and twisting ski cross course was out of sight.

(Soundbite of cheering)

BERKES: It was only a minute into the new-era blend of X Games and the Olympics when a spectacular crash occurred.

Unidentified Man #1: (unintelligible) hit on his hip right there.

BERKES: American Daron Rahlves went to three Olympics as an alpine skier, but didn't win any medals. So he switched to ski cross two years ago for another chance at a medal.

Mr. DARON RAHLVES (U.S. Olympic Skicross Team): It's more of a challenge, because you have guys that are, like, in your way, all over you, coming up on you. And you're not always in control. Like, I wouldn't have crashed there if I was, like, going there by myself.

BERKES: In skicross, four skiers race shoulder to shoulder, jockeying for position, flying through the air off jumps and navigating sharp turns, all at freeway speed.

(Soundbite of cheering)

BERKES: In the final, Canadian Christopher Del Bosco was coming off the next-to-last jump in full view of the crowd, solidly in third and assured of a bronze medal.

(Soundbite of cheering)

BERKES: Del Bosco flew out of control off the jump and smashed hard into the snow. American Casey Puckett had failed to qualify earlier and was watching at the finish. He's also a former alpine racer who turned to skicross for what he calls the fun and the danger. And with four Olympics behind him and no medals, he was also hoping skicross would get him on the medals platform here.

Mr. CASEY PUCKETT (U.S. Olympic Ski Team): You know, I'm 37 years old, and I've had - I feel like I've had one-too-many surgeries...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PUCKETT: know, one on each shoulder and six on my knee. I'm kind of sick of the operating room, to be honest. So I might seek out something else a little less dangerous.

Unidentified Man #2: Gold medalist Olympic champion, representing Switzerland, Michael Schmid.

BERKES: The winners were acknowledged in a ceremony following the final race. Neither Del Bosco nor Rahlves were hurt seriously. The crashes have that NASCAR/roller derby appeal, but it's also the speed, the jumps and the maneuvering that have Olympic officials hoping they've got a new sport that will attract younger viewers and bolster TV ratings.

Howard Berkes, NPR News, Vancouver.

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.

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