Who to watch for in men’s ski halfpipe

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With halfpipe skiing making its debut in Sochi at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park on Feb. 18, 30 men will compete to make medal history for their respective nations. The event features a best-of-two-run qualifying round down the 22-foot-high, 700-foot-long pipe, after which 12 athletes will advance to the two-run final round, where the best run again counts. Skiers will be judged for overall impression based on technical execution, amplitude, variety, use of the pipe, and difficulty. Competition will be stiff, so here are a few favorites to keep your eyes on.

Kevin Rolland (FRA): France's Kevin Rolland will he a high-flying favorite; the halfpipe specialist flew away with a victory at January's U.S. Grand Prix event in Park City, Utah, besting a host of America's top skiers (and keeping additional U.S. athletes from qualifying) with a whopping 94.40 points on his second run. Oh yeah, and he's also a a two-time Winter X Games champion who is no stranger to competing on a big stage.

Justin Dorey (CAN): Growing up with pros like Tanner Hall, Canada's Justin Dorey has been called the best pipe skier in the game by fellow competitors. Guided, like other Canadian freeskiers, by the spirit of the late Sarah Burke, Dorey has several top finishes on his shelf, including a halfpipe silver at the 2009 FIS Freestyle World Ski Championships, a win at the AFP World Championships in 2011, and a Dew Cup win from 2012. He hasn't slowed down this year, with a home win in the World Cup in Calgary, a fourth place at Copper Mountain, Colorado, and a sixth in Breckenridge, Colorado, for a points total of 212—enough to win the crystal globes for topping the leaderboard.

Justin Dorey

Canada’s Justin Dorey’s got air for days. Photo by Matt Morning/ESPN Images

Mike Riddle (CAN): Best known for his silky smooth style, Sherwood Park, Alberta's Mike Riddle is as veteran as they come in the halfpipe, and his time in and out of the trenches could pay off in spades in Sochi. Competing in the pro pipe circuit for seven years, he's consistently notched podium results at top events worldwide, like the X Games, the Dew Tour, and World Cup contests. With his titles including the 2008 European Open, 2010 Winter Dew Tour Champion, 2011 FIS World Champion, 2012 AFP Championships Winner, and 2013 World Cup Halfpipe Overall Champion, he's a clear favorite to add to his country's medal haul on Tuesday.

David Wise (USA): With four X Games medals, one World Championship title, and countless other accolades, Reno, Nevada's David Wise is the frontrunner to take the gold in pipe. Winning his first U.S. National title at age 15 and turning pro at 18, he’s the reigning two-time U.S. champ and won the X Games, Dew Tour finals, and Grand Prix finals consecutively in 2012. He also won the 2013 Worlds, giving him all the momentum he needs heading into Tuesday's match-up. Look for style, technicality, and amplitude as his wife, Alexandra, and daughter, Nayeli, cheer him on with the rest of the country.

Aaron Blunck

Go time: U.S. halfpipe skier Aaron Blunck contemplating another run at the U.S. Grand Prix finals in Park City, Utah; photo courtesy USSA

Aaron Blunck (USA): At just 17 years old, Crested Butte, Colorado's Aaron Blunck, who comes from a ski-instructor family, has already made a big name for himself in the halfpipe. Winning the bronze at the inaugural Youth Olympic Winter Games with his smooth style, amplitude, and unique bag of tricks, he garnered five podium spots in 2011-12 and kicked off 2013 with a third at The North Face Park & Pipe Open and a World Cup podium at Copper Mountain, Colorado's Grand Prix en route to a fifth-place overall AFP world ranking. "When I started doing well, I started getting more confidence," he says.

Lyman Currier (USA): A knee injury suffered in 2012 hasn't slowed Boulder, Colorado's Lyman Currier down one bit. Winning the FIS World Cup finals in 2013 for slopestyle and The North Face Park & Pipe Open Series for halfpipe, the young phenom—who took eighth in the AFP world rankings as a rookie in 2011-12—is as versatile as freeskiers come, bringing confidence in both disciplines to Sochi. Look for his trademark corks, grabs, and spins in halfpipe skiing's big debut.

Men's ski halfpipe premieres at the Sochi Olympics Tuesday, Feb. 18, at 5:45 p.m. local time. A complete viewers' guide is available through NBCOlympics.com.

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