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Amy Donaldson: Pioneers of freeskiing didn't make first-ever Olympic team

Published: Sunday, Jan. 19 2014 8:55 p.m. MST

Simon Dumont, of the United States, looks after competing during the men's U.S. Grand Prix freestyle halfpipe skiing event Saturday, Jan. 18, 2014, in Park City, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Rick Bowmer, AP

PARK CITY — The skier wearing bib No. 5 skied down the center of the Park City halfpipe without throwing a single trick.

By the time Simon Dumont skied into the finish area, the crowd of more than 5,000 fans was cheering and applauding as if he’d just thrilled them with the gold medal run at the final U.S. Grand Prix Saturday night.

They weren’t just being polite.

They were trying to say thank you to a pioneer.

Dumont couldn’t hide his disappointment, and after fighting for years to help his sport gain acceptance into the Olympic family, no one blamed him. It was an effort that was both inspiring and heartbreaking.

The 27-year-old owns medals in nearly every competition available to freeskiers, but there was one prize he repeatedly said he yearned to win — an Olympic medal. The final two qualifying events were held this weekend at Park City Mountain Resort, and Dumont sat in fourth place with three spots still up for grabs.

Even the men battling for those same spots said no one deserved one more than Dumont.

“I wanted Simon to make the team more than anybody,” said 22-year-old Gus Kenworthy, who made the U.S. Olympic team in ski slopestyle and is being considered for the fourth and final spot after his third-place finish Saturday night. “A huge part of the fact that I’m in this sport is because of Simon. He’s gone from someone who’s been a role model to someone who’s a teammate and a friend. I was really pulling for him. … It was just really difficult to see him get hurt (Friday) night. To watch him ski tonight, not at his full potential, it took it out of me. It was hard.”

Before Dumont got the chance to prove that “Papa Dumont” still has what it takes to beat the young guns, he tore his ACL and was unable to compete in Friday’s event.

Officials said he wouldn’t compete Saturday, but he showed up and gave it his best effort on his first of two runs. Judges gave him a score of 72.20 points, which was only good enough for 12th place on a night when 19-year-old Lyman Currier won the event with a score of 92.60.

On his second run, he simply skied straight down the pipe, which may have confused some. Why ski at all if you can’t compete?

“He’s a machine,” said Sue Bowman, mother to newly named Olympian Maddie Bowman, the top-ranked U.S. woman in ski halfpipe. “There is no way he was going to go out sitting down. That’s not Simon. He was going to go out just throwing it down.”

It’s hard to sum up all that Dumont has given to freeskiing. He told the Deseret news two years ago that he left the structure of gymnastics for the freedom of freeskiing when he was young because it allowed him to be creative. The sport is whatever the athletes want it to be.

Dumont was vocal telling reporters he didn’t understand how IOC officials could take snowboarding and not freeskiing when they were such similar sports — even competing on the same courses (slopestyle and halfpipe). When IOC representatives traveled to Park City in 2011 to watch the sport's first sanctioned World Championship, the weather was so bad many athletes said they wouldn't have skied if the Olympics weren't on the line. On the men's podium was Dumont, who earned bronze.

He was organized, helping to develop a board of directors and an athlete ranking system that would incorporate competitions outside U.S. and FIS official events.

His hope was that the sport that thrived on independence and creativity could maintain its essence while gaining the advantages that come with mainstream acceptance.

He wasn’t alone in his fight.

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