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Hammer Time: Big Air

February 16, 1994

LILLEHAMMER, Norway (AP) _ Sean Smith, you’ve just made the cut in the Olympic freestyle mogul finals. How do you feel?

(EDITOR’S NOTE: For full, realistic effect, imagine Smith, a 5-foot-6 neutron burst from Park City, Utah, drowning out the mega-decibel blare of Led Zeppelin pumping through the sound system at Kanthaugen Freestyle Arena).

″I made it in and I’m, uh, psyched about it. (Increase volume, pitch and speed to full) I’ll come down and I’ll light it up and the crowd will go wild and so will the judges,″ Smith says.

″I was nervous, though. Everybody was taking all their stuff, busting it out, all their tricks. (Your speakers should implode at this point) B-F-A, Man 3/8 B-F-A 3/8″

(EDITOR’S NOTE: BFA is not an abbreviation for, as Mr. Smith suggests, the Brigham Freestyle Association. B actually stands for Big; A is for Air. You’re on your own with the F).

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Air is a major concept of freestyle skiing. Loosely defined, it refers to the moment when the laws of gravity are temporarily suspended and skiers linger in space, moving arms, legs and skis in ways that seem anatomically impossible.

Air should be big.

Air should be good.

Example: When U.S. mogul skier Ann Battelle tries to express satisfaction with the ″awesome″ Kanthaugen course, she describes it as ″a showplace for people with good air, which hopefully I will have tomorrow.″

Little wonder many skiers competing at Tuesday’s preliminaries have BFA tattooed on their gloves as a lucky totem.

If it hasn’t dawned by now, be aware freestyle skiing is not your normal Olympic event. Few other sports at the Lillehammer Games incorporate VERY LOUD rock music with each run. Probably no other uses sound effects, like a rooster’s crow or a space shuttle countdown and liftoff.

The finals in mogul competition are set for today, with Donna Weinbrecht of the United States a top pick for gold.

Weinbrecht returns after a first place showing in Albertville. She sat out 1993, recuperating from a serious knee injury that threatened to end her career.

Instead, Weinbrecht suffered through painful rehabilitation and returned to win six straight World Cup events. On Tuesday, a slight stumble after her first jump left her with a sixth place showing.

While the New Jersey native manages to avoid much of the Mogul Speak used by her peers, bits of the argot creep into her conversation.

Consider her explanation that her bobble at the beginning of her run came because she only ran part of the course in her practices.

″I think I probably lost an edge,″ she said after her run. ″I need to remember the flow. That’s where my skiffle was, off at the top.″

Once known as ″hot-dogging,″ freestyle’s various forms have matured over the past few decades. Mogul is a course of manmade hills and ruts with two launching points for air time. It became an Olympic medal sport in 1992.

Aerials feature midair flips and somersaults. This is its first year as a medal sport.

But while freestyle has gained respectability, its competitors remain a tad on the wild side.

″Your freestyle skier is a different person,″ explains Troy Benson, a member of the U.S. team. ″He’s a little freer, a little crazier.″

Include Benson on that list. A late add to the U.S. squad, Benson was in church at Christmas when he noticed he couldn’t read a sign on the wall.

He went to the optometrist. Contacts were prescribed. A few weeks later Benson placed fifth in his first World Cup competition. He was 13th in Tuesday’s elimination round, the best showing by a U.S. man.

″It really helps to see the course,″ he said.

Indeed, when you consider the 230-meter stretch includes two snow ramps and some 50 boulder-shaped snow mounds set at 6-foot intervals. All must be run under a half minute, including air time for your Daffy or Mule Kick.

A Daffy is accomplished by placing one leg in front of the body and the other behind while airborne; a Mule Kick is defined this way in one text: ″Imagine scratching one armpit with both tails of your skis.″

All that done to the roar of music from Metallica to the Beatles, picked by a mogul deejay.

Actually, skiers seldom hear the music. They’re too busy bouncing down the course.

″To tell the truth I don’t notice,″ Battelle said. ″You’re not thinking about anything except get me to that bottom area and let me land it.″

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