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Who to watch for in men’s ski slopestyle

The first-ever men's slopestyle event could be the most exciting freeskiing event of the Winter Olympic Games. The Sochi course is big, and skiers including Yuki Tsubota and Maggie Voisin have been hurt on it in the past week, but that also leaves the door open for some massive lines. A lot will depend on how the judges score the event; in Saturday's men’s snowboard final, judges were scoring high for style over amplitude and technicality. In men's ski slope, the field, maybe more than any other event, is stacked, and there's no obvious standout. Here are some skiers to pay attention to.

Henrik Harlaut
E Dollo, as the dreadlocked 22-year-old Swede calls himself, is arguably the weirdest and most stylish skier in the game. He's won X Games Big Air for the last two years, his 2013 victory clinched with a perfect score after throwing the first-ever nose butter triple cork 1620. He's pretty casual about competitions, but when he shows up to compete, he often wins, and the Olympics could be a big enough deal to warrant extra effort. Prediction: If he brings his A game, no one can beat him.

The Americans
The U.S. men's slope team is deep, and 19-year-old Indianian Nick Goepper, who has been on a tear lately, is probably our best chance at gold. He was the first American athlete to qualify for the Olympic team, and he's been dominant in competitions, having won slopestyle gold at the past two X Games. He's known for going huge—he won X with a triple cork—and being super stylish. The rest of the team—Bobby Brown, Gus Kenworthy, and Joss Christensen—shouldn't be far behind, particularly Kenworthy, who is also consistently throwing triples.

American Joss Christensen. Photo: Sarah Brunson/U.S. Freeskiing
American Joss Christensen; photo by Sarah Brunson/U.S. Freeskiing

The Swiss and the Norwegians
Both Switzerland and Norway are fielding heavy teams. On the Swiss side, they'll be strong on the three jumps at the end of the course. Look for big-air specialists Elias Ambühl and Kai Mahler; Mahler’s podiumed in every X Games he's entered. They're also bringing Luca Schuler and Fabian Boesch, who are both only 16.

For Norway, young gun PK Hunder could place well, as could veteran Andreas Håtveit, who has podiumed in slope at three of the last four X Games—though he’s said this will be his last competition season.

Skiers from Down Under
The Southern Hemisphere contingent—Australia's Russ Henshaw and New Zealand's Wells brothers, Jossi and Beau-James—are all strong, stylish skiers. Henshaw often finds himself on the podium, and the Kiwi brothers, although they've been plagued by injuries, are both contenders too.

Canada's ABM, going big; photo by Sarah Brunson/U.S. Freeskiing
Canada’s ABM, going big; photo by Sarah Brunson/U.S. Freeskiing

Lone Countrymen
A few athletes who are the sole skiers representing their country stand a chance at winning. Foremost is Brit James "Woodsy" Woods, who is the most successful skier ever to come out of Sheffield, England's dry slopes. Canada, which has a strong halfpipe team and just dominated in women's slopestyle, is sending only one male slopestyle skier, Alex Beaulieu-Marchand. ABM, as he’s known for short, is widely regarded for his creativity. German Bene Mayer, who is better known for filming with the Legs of Steel crew, should go huge.

Men’s slopestyle skiing makes its Olympic debut at 10:15 a.m. Thursday local time. NBCOlympics.com has a complete viewing schedule.

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