U.S. teens stomping the road to Sochi

The Summer Olympics just ended. The major-league baseball season is slogging through the dog days. It's two-a-day time on football fields all across these United States. But Down Under, in the mountains of New Zealand, it's winter, and on Wednesday, far away from baseball and football and anywhere but the back pages and small print of most everyone's hometown newspaper sports sections, one of the best stories of the Sochi 2014 Winter Games began to take shape.

Two American teen-agers, Torin Yater-Wallace and Devin Logan, opened the Sochi 2014 qualifying period with a U.S. sweep of the FIS World Cup halfpipe ski competition in Cardrona, New Zealand.

Going back to March of 2011, American halfpipe skiers have won each of the last six World Cup events.

Five U.S. men placed Wednesday in the top 15; three American women made the top 10.

At issue -- already -- are rankings and quotas for Olympic selection in Sochi.

And, of course, the thoroughly awesome culture of freeskiing.

"It was a fun competition and I am so stoked to be here," Torin said upon winning.

Torin, who is the reigning Association of Freeskiing Professionals halfpipe champion, is from Aspen, Colo. He is 16 years old.

Devin, 19, from West Dover, Vt., is the current AFP overall and halfpipe champ. She won Wednesday by a ridiculous three points.

In this context, three is a lot.

Devin fell during the first of her two runs, meaning she had to come back and, as she put it, "stomp" a big second run, telling a FIS website afterward, "All the girls were killing it. I'm stoked to see the progression. I'm happy. A little lucky, but happy."

Here in the States, the big names from the Summer Games are -- understandably, appropriately -- making the rounds of TV talk shows and making other star turns. Those London Games ended just 10 days ago.

The glow is great, of course. The U.S. team won 46 gold medals, 104 overall, tops in both categories.

But, as the song says, time waits for no one. Sochi is a mere 17 months away.

In Vancouver, the U.S. team won the overall medal count, with 37.

As 2014 approaches, it must be unequivocally understood that the Sochi project is a matter not only of national significance but a personal priority for Vladimir Putin. After being sworn in again as president of Russia this past May 7, Putin could have held his very first meeting that day with anyone in the world he deemed of consequence.

He chose International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge.

To thus note that it will be important for the Russians to win Olympic medals in Sochi is thus a grave understatement.

In Vancouver, there were a total of 24 medal opportunities in snowboard and freeskiing.

In Sochi, because of new events added last year by the IOC, that total will jump to 48.

To be clear: that's for men and women -- 24 and 24, a total of 48.

The New Zealand World Cup on Wednesday marked the start of the Sochi qualifying period. To be abundantly obvious, it runs over the next 17 months.

The U.S. goal -- with an extraordinarily deep roster already -- is to try to qualify four men and four women in each Olympic event. Given that the freestyle/freeskiing team size by rule will be capped at 26, and there's a further max of 14 athletes per gender between all disciplines, there's obviously going to have to be some give.

When you have athletes like Devin Logan and Torin Yater-Wallace, these are nice problems to have.

This was Devin's winning run: left 540 tail grab to flair, mute grab air, alley oop mute grab, 720 mute grab to switch alley oop 360.

Here is Torin's: right double cork 1260 mute grab to alley oop rodeo Japan grab, 900 tail grab, 1080 tail grab, finishing things off with a switch 900 mute grab.

If that looks like something badly transcribed from one of Putin's cabinet meetings, good news -- there are still 17 months to learn all about it.

Be assured that in Putin's cabinet: they're studying up.

And at the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Assn. -- they're on it, too.