Olympic freestyle spots far from decided | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Olympic freestyle spots far from decided

Column by Steve Yingling, Tahoe Daily Tribune

If anything can be gleaned from the second World Cup freestyle event last Friday, it’s that the United States men’s moguls skiing squad is deeper and more talented than an old Saturday Night Live skit.

As a result, it’s way too early to tell who is going to represent the red, white and blue in the upcoming Winter Games in Salt Lake City.

Six Americans, including Travis Ramos and Chris Hernandez of South Lake Tahoe, finished among the top 11 in Friday’s World Cup in Steamboat Springs, Colo.

“It went well,” Hernandez said.. “If you made one little bobble, you were essentially out of it.”

Ramos, 22, and Hernandez, 23, put themselves in early position to qualify for the Olympics with fourth- and sixth-place performances, respectively.

“This whole week was pretty strange,” said Ramos, who was making his season debut after dislocating an ankle eight weeks ago during water ramp training in Utah. “This was my first time skiing an actual moguls course this year, so my expectations were actually kind of low. I was just trying to get down the course, let alone being competitive. It’s a good feeling to have a little anxiety, adrenaline flowing again.”

With three World Cups and a Gold Cup remaining before team selections are announced on Jan. 22, it’s too premature for Ramos and Hernandez to check into the Olympic Village.

Only Jeremy Bloom of Loveland, Colo., can start inquiring if the athletes will be sleeping on cots or in king-size beds. Bloom pulled off his second straight podium, finishing third behind Canada’s Stephane Rochon and fellow Coloradan Travis Mayer.

“If I go in and get two seconds or a second and a third, then I’m ahead of Jeremy,” Hernandez. “There’s still a long way to go.”

Only this year’s World Cup events and the Gold Cup (an automatic spot goes to the winner) are being used to determine the Olympic teams. Criteria includes winning a World Cup and placing on the podium twice. After that, the spots go to the skier with the best and most consistent finishes.

“We have such amazing depth that some of the lower level guys can win the Gold Cup,” Ramos said. “Anybody who is capable of winning the Gold Cup is capable of winning at the Olympics.”

Mayer capitalized on a coach’s discretionary pick to accomplish part of the criteria for making the Olympic team — landing on a World Cup podium.

But Mayer’s runner-up finish won’t do him any good in the weeks to come. He isn’t expected to compete in the upcoming World Cups in France and Germany since those spots were earned by team members based on last season’s performances.

That will give the team’s more established skiers a better chance of surpassing Mayer, who only has the Gold Cup and a Lake Placid World Cup remaining.

If the Olympic team was chosen today, Ramos and Hernandez, who are ranked 11th and 12th in the World Cup standings, would likely be part of the U.S.’s four-man contingent.

Outside of Jonny Moseley, U.S. coaches didn’t have that consistency to fill their Olympic spots in 1998. Consequently, the picks were subjective, causing a minor revolt on the team.

“I’m confident the spots will be filled according to the criteria,” Ramos said. “It’s a worthwhile decision-making tool.”

That could mean that Moseley won’t get the opportunity to defend his Olympic title. Moseley finished a disappointing 37th in Steamboat Springs.

“So far, Jonny hasn’t produced, but I don’t doubt that he will,” Ramos said.

Added Hernandez, “Jonny has as much pressure as everyone else does. He has a top 10. He’s still in it as much as we are.

“It could happen to me the next three World Cups. It’s a pretty nerve-wracking event, especially this year. You try not think about it, but it’s always there in the back of your head.”

But that tension subsided for Hernandez when he returned home Sunday to an above-average snowpack in the Sierra. The heavy snowpack may be edge that Hernandez and Ramos can work in upcoming events.

“It’s gonna continue to get better and better as we get further into the season,” Hernandez said. “It’s going good because we have so much snow here now, so it’s great training.”

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