Wallisch, slopestyle find fast track to Olympics

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 6, 2013 at 9:41 pm •  Published: February 6, 2013

For years, Tom Wallisch's focus in skiing was more about fun than fame or fortune.

An otherworldly video and a surprise decision from Olympic leaders changed his perspective.

Wallisch, the 2012 Winter X Games champion in slopestyle skiing, hopes to be among the new faces to watch on the U.S. team when the Sochi Games start a year from Thursday, bringing with them the debut of skiing events on the slopestyle course and in the superpipe.

"The whole thing's a little surreal," the 25-year-old Wallisch said of his sport's fast-tracked inclusion onto the world's biggest sports stage. "I definitely had not expected it. But it's good news."

Well known inside his sport's circles, Wallisch does some sponsorship work with North Face and has other endorsement deals. But he has considerable ground to cover to get into the same stratosphere with, say, Shaun White, Bode Miller or Lindsey Vonn, who hopes she'll be recovered from her season-ending knee and leg injuries in time to be at full strength for 2014.

Still, the potential is there for the Pittsburgh native, even if he didn't fully recognize it at first.

Wallisch put on his first pair of skis on at age 3, learned to ski at a small resort in Maryland called Wisp and, like so many daredevil athletes in the making, spent some outdoor time doing jumps off the roof of his parents' house.

Not until 2006, when a company in search of the next, great up-and-coming freestyle skier asked candidates to make videos showing what they could do, did Wallisch truly realize his potential. In one video, Wallisch works his way down the mountain, effortlessly gliding over rails, twisting and flipping off the ramps on the slopestyle course.

"I did the video and people out there were watching it and labeling it things like, 'If Jesus Skied,' and other stuff like that," Wallisch said. "I thought 'Whoa. These people think I deserve to be a pro skier. I guess I could try that. I might have to try a little harder at this.'"

Thus, a career on both the filming and competition sides of freestyle skiing was born.

Wallisch moved to Utah, where he had more time to work on his craft. The effort culminated in a gold medal in Aspen at last year's Winter X Games, which came only a few months after slopestyle got a somewhat unexpected invite to join the Olympics.

"We were thinking it could be another four, eight years before we ever got this chance, and we were fine with that," Wallisch said. "There were no slopestyle athletes pushing to get into the Olympics. It's something we've done for a long time and we love it."

In their latest push to bring a younger audience to their games, Olympic organizers added the ski events and also brought snowboard slopestyle in for the 2014 Games. The addition of snowboard slopestyle gives White, the two-time defending champion on the halfpipe, a chance to win another medal and entertain fans for more than just one evening during the Olympic fortnight.

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