Kelley Korbin – CFSA
June 17, 2013, LAC BEAUPORT, QUEBEC (ISN) – “We’re looking for a few good acrobats.” That’s the message Canadian National Aerial Ski Team Head Coach Daniel Murphy wants to give Canadian gymnasts, trampolinists and divers who are heading towards retirement – along with any other acrobatically-inclined athletes who are interested in trying their moves on snow.
He and Development Coach Nicolas Fontaine are starting an aggressive multi-faceted approach to attract new talent into the exciting sport of aerials.
But he also wants you to know that aerials is not an instant gratification proposition. The sport is anything but easy and the progressions are slow – often taking men four years or more to get up to the level where you can do the quadruple twisting triple back flips that are ubiquitous in World Cup competition.
That being said, Murphy believes that there are a lot of driven and dedicated acrobats who will thrive in the sport. “Gymnasts will recognize themselves in aerials,” said Murphy, “With our classic lines and regimented progression schedule we have a lot in common with them.”
The big difference is really in the adrenaline. With aerials that the sky’s the limit, and that’s the payoff. Soaring to heights upwards of 50 feet, aerialists get the most hang time of any acrobatic sport.
Murphy also wants you to know a little secret about aerials, “You don’t actually need to be a skier, we can teach you the skiing skills. What we want people to bring is the air sense — the ability to twist a flip. Actually, the optimal situation would be for a potential new aerialist to learn skiing for a couple of years while they are still training and competing in whatever other acrobatic sport they come from. The key is that they have the discipline to work hard.”
To this point Murphy concedes that compared to moguls, halfpipe and slopestyle, “We’re the less-cool freestyle discipline.”
But, what is cool is a chance to represent Canada at the Olympics and, in that arena, aerials is among the top of the pecking order — consistently one of the fastest-selling tickets at the Games with six medals up for grabs to countries who can perform.
Yet even with Canada’s traditional domination in the sport, including multiple World Championship titles and World Cup medals by athletes like Fontaine, Steve Omischl and most recently Warren Shouldice, finding athletes has always been a challenge.
The Canadian team used an aggressive approach to attract competing gymnasts in preparation for the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics. Four members of that push, including 2013 World Championship silver medalist Travis Gerrits, are still on the team and have legitimate hopes at earning berths for the Sochi Games.
Murphy said he and Fontaine want to build on the success they had with the Jump 2010 Program. “We’re trying to forge long-term partnerships with our peers in gymnastics, trampoline and diving so that they can present aerials as an option for athletes at the logical end of their careers in those sports but who still have an Olympic dream.” Murphy hopes this approach will create a constant flow of new talent into the sport in Canada.
It’s a technique that’s worked for Australia, home to the 2010 Olympic Champion Lydia Lassila, who reached her dream after retiring from competitive gymnastics.
“In 1999 the Olympic Winter Institute of Australia started a new recruitment model where they would select ex-gymnasts and introduce them to the world of freestyle skiing. They figured that gymnasts are equipped with a strong skill set that could be transferred to aerial skiing in particular. Some of these included balance, agility, strength, acrobatic awareness and a good work ethic. I was one of two gymnasts selected to ‘guinea pig’ the program. I had no experience skiing before but with good coaching from the beginning, I picked it up quickly. Skiing progressed to jumping and before I knew it, I was competing in the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics Where I finished 8th. The model worked and since then, the selection process has continued and become more refined,” said Lassila who has earned 32 World Cup podiums.
Cord Spero was a member of the Canadian aerial squad before moving to Australia as head coach of their successful national team, so he knows both systems well. “It’s really hard to find people for aerials,” he acknowledged, “And for every one that succeeds there are seven to 10 that didn’t for various reasons. You need a desire to work really hard with little reward for a long time. It’s the true definition of delayed gratification, but if you stick with it it’s an amazing opportunity.”
And, said Spero, the opportunity is especially good for women because there are fewer women in the sport and because the lower degree of difficulty of the jumps (most women perform doubles) makes the progression faster.
Australia’s system seems to be working, and there is no doubt this summer-sport nation will, once again, be a medal threat on aerial hill in Sochi.
Spero also contends that Australia’s recruitment model is successful because the country’s top athletes (active and retired) are tireless promoters of their sport, and because they have a dedicated recruitment coordinator who is constantly on the lookout for new talent.
Canada and Australia are not the only nations actively searching for aerial talent. In fact, the US is running an aggressive recruitment contest that offers the winner of an on-line video contest the opportunity to attend the team’s tryout camp. Videos of candidates hoping to try their talents in aerials be found at: https://create.it/campaigns/us-ski-team-tryout-camp-for-acrobats-gymnasts
Murphy is thinking of instituting a similar push in Canada. “Aerials has always been kindof on oxygen, that’s nothing new” he said, conceding that, at about 11, there’s a relatively small pool of countries currently represented on the World Cup circuit. “But, contrary to what some people say, aerials is not dead, it’s not event dying, and in some countries, like China, Belarus and Switzerland, the program is very strong.”
FIS Freestyle Coordinator Joe Fitzgerald agrees and explained that from a viewership perspective aerials is thriving, “Freestyle Skiing Aerials at the World Cup, World Championships and Olympic Games level, is one of the most acrobatic and exciting events of the International Ski Federation. The skills expressed by these top competitors is something to behold, in person or on TV. These competitions have received some of the top ratings during the recent Winter Olympic Games,” said Fitzgerald.
Murphy also pointed out that some of today’s best mogul talent has come out of aerials. In fact, Canadian Olympic Champion Alex Bilodeau and two-time FIS mogul Crystal Globe winner Mikael Kingsbury both credit their tremendous talent on the mogul hill to their strong aerials background. The Canadian aerial coaches believe this kind of talent transfer can go both ways and that there are probably mogul or slopestyle skiers out there who could become great aerialists if they take advantage of the opportunity.
In addition to ongoing and long-term recruitment projects, Murphy and Fontaine are also putting together two promotional ‘Try Aerials’ camps at the Water Ramp facilities in Lac Beauport, Que. this summer. Kids who are selected to attend will receive free equipment, coaching and lodging for the duration of the camps, which run from July 17 – 21 and August 14 – 18. Anyone interested should contact Murphy in Montreal at: firstname.lastname@example.org or Nicolas Fontaine in Quebec City at: email@example.com.
For more information, contact CFSA Media Relations Manager Kelley Korbin at: firstname.lastname@example.org.