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Char Valley grad optimistic for 2014 Winter Games

| Wednesday, March 13, 2013, 12:02 a.m.
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Chartiers Valley graduate Tom Wallisch competes in the slopestyle skiing event at the FIS Freestyle Ski World Championship on Saturday, March 9, 2013, in Voss, Norway.

The 2013 slopestyle skiing competition season has been markedly different for Chartiers Valley graduate Tom Wallisch than last year.

In February 2012, Wallisch scored the highest marks in the history of slopestyle to win X Games gold in Aspen, Colo. He followed that with a silver at the Euro X Games in Tignes, France, and ended the year first in the Association of Freeskiing Professionals rankings and first in the Dew Tour rankings. He also was named ESPN's Action Sports Athlete of the Year.

This year, however, Wallisch partially tore the MCL in his knee two weeks prior to the X Games. He still competed but finished ninth and failed to qualify for the final to defend his gold.

Better this year than 2014.

Slopestyle skiing will make its Olympic debut in Sochi, Russia, a year from now. Wallisch, who moved to Utah in 2006, intends to be there as a member of Team USA.

“Whoever's skiing the best at the time will go, so it all comes down to what happens in December and January (2014),” said Wallisch, 25, a member of the U.S. Freeskiing team. “It will be exciting. I might not know until the end of January if I'm going, and it will only be two or three weeks away.”

Freeskiing has two major competitive disciplines — slopestyle and halfpipe. Slopestyle skiers (and snowboarders) perform tricks, including spins, grabs and flips off jumps and along rails and boxes placed along the course. The point is to have more variety, greater difficulty and bigger air than anyone, and Wallisch is not just good for a kid from Pittsburgh who learned his craft at Wisp Resort in Maryland.

Wallisch is among the best there is.

“One reason he does so well in contests is that he's got a really clean style where he just has very little body movement,” said U.S. freeskiing slopestyle team coach Skogen Sprang. “There's no flailing. He's just subtle and smooth on his skis. That and he's just really talented and has the whole bag of tricks. A lot of guys have some or most of the tricks, but he seems to be able to do every trick out there.”

Wallisch was recently in New York City courtesy of The North Face to mark the one-year countdown to Sochi. He appeared on a segment of the “Today” show and demonstrated a few tricks after talking to the hosts.

There have been issues with uncooperative weather in Sochi, however. A slopestyle competition that was to be an Olympic test event was canceled due to lack of snow. Sprang said he isn't concerned about the same thing happening next year.

“I'm confident they'll pull it off,” he said. “We're used to being flexible with the weather and things you can't control. We all know that one winter is never the same as the next.”

Wallisch said knowing that the 2014 Olympics are less than a year away is exciting and a nerve-wracking.

“It adds to the pressure,” Wallisch said. “But I'm definitely looking forward to it and the rest of this year and just doing a lot of skiing this summer to get everything dialed in.”

Karen Price is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach her at kprice@tribweb.com or via Twitter @KarenPrice_Trib.

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