An X Gamer tries to make it in ski racing. But as a two-sport athlete, will Jon Olsson end up more Deion Sanders or Jeremy Bloom?
Here's the proposition: Take one of freestyleskiing's brightest stars 26-year-old Swede Jon (pronounced Yoon) Olsson put him in a skin suit, and send him up against the racers of the World Cup, in giant slalom. We'd give him long odds, but Olsson thinks his chances of success are pretty good. He's bet his friend Jens Byggmark, of the Swedish national ski team, 50,000 kronor (about $6,000) that he'll make Sweden's 2014 Olympic team in GS.
Olsson training at the Trapeze Arts School, in Oakland, California
Predictably, this all started as a wager between two tipsy pals jousting over the relative merits of their skiing disciplines. But it's also the first time an X Games skier has attempted to jump out of the halfpipe and into the World Cup. If he succeeds, he might finally earn freestylers a little begrudging respect; despite their recent upsurge in popularity, they're still seen as second-class athletes by the racing establishment.
Let's be clear: Few people expect Olsson to pull this off, especially while he continues to compete at park-and-pipe events. Racing requires a level of physical exertion and ski-turning precision that's usually built up over many years of repetitive training. Olsson hasn't raced since he was lured off the Swedish junior national team at 18 by cash-flush action-sports sponsors.
"I want him to understand how much work and effort you have to put in to be a pro alpine skier and to qualify for the Olympics," says Byggmark. His implication is that park-and-pipe skiers, even if they have the talent, don't have the required attention span. Olsson, five-eleven and 180 pounds, who's sponsored by Oakley and Red Bull, seems to fit that party-boy characterization. He lives in Monaco when he's not rolling to resorts in a $170,000 Lamborghini Gallardo equipped with studded tires and a ski rack.
Unfortunately for Byggmark, fast living apparently translates to fast skiing. Over the summer, in his first FIS-sanctioned races with World Cup athletes, in New Zealand, Olsson finished as high as third in a GS race, beating all but one member of the Swedish national team and U.S. up-and-comer Ryan Wilson. "My first thought was, This is impossible," says FIS event manager Niklas Carlsson, Olsson's former coach. "But he's been skiing very well." And his coaching these days is coming from his 24-year-old brother, Hans a national-team member and videotaped footage of his runs. "I really want to make this work," says Olsson. In New Zealand he trained with Bode Miller, who, like Olsson, is sponsored by Head skis. Olsson taped Miller's runs to watch in slow motion. Then he learned something else when a helicopter landed on the mountain and whisked Miller away for a round of afternoon golf. "I thought I was living the rock-star lifestyle," says Olsson. "But Miller wins that competition all the way."
This month, Olsson might need his own helicopter as he scrambles to make it from the X Games, held in Aspen January 22 25 (where he's won ten medals in the past), to a NorAm race (the level right below the World Cup), on February 2 in Alberta. Looking ahead to his year of two-timing, Olsson says, "I have every day of the next 365 planned."