By Philip O'Connor
ROSA KHUTOR, Russia (Reuters) - Slopestyle skiers are planning to grab the chance to be part of the Sochi Olympics with both hands as their sport is included in the Games for the first time.
"Now it (the Olympics) is the pinnacle," favorite Nick Goepper told reporters following his practice runs on the Rosa Khutor course on Wednesday.
"Before this, the X-Games was the Olympics of our sport. Now we have this amazing opportunity for the top athletes to come to the Olympics and showcase our sport for the masses.
"We control our image and the way our sport looks to everybody. It's kinda cool to have that opportunity."
With its roots firmly in the freestyle subculture, a huge global TV audience will now be exposed to slopestyle, but Goepper said the Olympics alone was not a good enough reason to take the sport up.
"It's probably the wrong reason to get into sport, so that you can go to the Olympics," the 19-year-old Indiana native said.
"I would do it because it's fun and you enjoy it, so hopefully it will get a lot more young kids into it. It's an opportunity to have a lot of fun and progress yourself, but you can also compete and go to big contests like the Olympics."
Having pulled off a triple-cork to win the X-Games, Goepper is the favorite for the inaugural slopestyle gold medal, but competition is intense - not least from his own team mates.
"The competition is super-tough, but I definitely think the U.S. is one of the strongest countries," Goepper's team mate Gus Kenworthy told Reuters.
"Unfortunately, only four people can make it on the team, and there's probably close to 10 Americans that would be contenders at all the other events. I think there is going to be stiff competition."
But it's not all about the U.S. and Norway's Andreas Haatviet will fancy his chances along with Sweden's Jesper Tjader, who said the course was made for his type of skiing.
"The competition is really tough, there are four really sharp Americans who are at the top of what feels like every competition, so they feel like the biggest threat," he told Reuters.
Kenworthy said winning a slopestyle medal at the Sochi Games would be extremely difficult.
"It's going to take something really special, done really well," he said. "You're going to have to have a super-technical run on the rails and on the jumps, but you're also going to have to execute it just perfectly. No mistakes."
Goepper threw down the gauntlet to the rest of the field.
"I think a triple-cork will be a staple in the winning run," he told reporters.
"I think there's going to be a lot of guys throwing the triple cork, I think it's just going to be about grabbing it all the way through and stomping it down."
The men's slopestyle competition gets underway on February 13.
(Editing by Ed Osmond) nL5N0LA31Y