White comes up big in superpipe
Shaun White is not the dominant force he once was in the superpipe.
But that’s only because of an emerging star named Kevin Pearce.
Finally, a rivalry snowboarding fans can appreciate.
But the edge still belongs to White, 22, who also remains the coolest competitor on the planet.
A week after being upstaged by Pearce late in the European Open, White on Sunday pulled out a dramatic triumph of his own at the Winter X Games -- the world’s biggest non-Olympics stage.
Trailing after two rounds, on a snowy night, White, as the final competitor, uncorked a series of gigantic maneuvers to pull past Pearce and six others and win the X Games superpipe competition for the second consecutive year.
“I thought about falling again,” he said afterward, in reference to falls on his first two runs. “But I kind of blanked all that out -- that was not an option.”
White, the 2006 Olympic gold medalist, garnered his ninth Winter X Games gold medal and 14th overall Winter X medal. Both are records.
Pearce, 21, who is aspiring to qualify for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, took the lead in the second round with a score of 90.66.
His routine included a frontside air 18 feet high, a McTwist, back-to-back 1080s and a frontside 900.
Pearce held his lead until White concluded the contest with a technically difficult backside rodeo flip, a 900, back-to-back 1080s and a McTwist, which essentially is a 540 rotation while back-flipping.
It could have gone either way, but judges gave White a 91.66.
Said Pearce: “It was tough sitting down there watching. I knew he had his focus there at the end. It’s not a position I ever want to have again.”
But it’s a position both figure to experience many times more.
U.S. skiers X’d out
Conspicuously absent from the men’s Skier X podium were Daron Rahlves, the 2008 champion, and Casey Puckett, the 2007 champion.
“That kind of spoils ESPN’s show, doesn’t it?” said Canada’s Stanley Hayer, the wire-to-wire winner, who was followed across the finish line by Japan’s Hiroomi Takizawa and Switzerland’s Andreas Steffan.
Hayer, last year’s runner-up, strongly implied he’d grown weary of playing anonymous second fiddle to “the Daron Rahlves show.”
Dreadfully slow conditions caused by steady snow, however, made for an atypical race day.
Not medaling at the X Games may not bode well for the top U.S. athletes as Skier X inches closer to its Olympic debut at the Vancouver Games, where it will be called ski cross.
But there’s a more pressing concern for a rollicking sport that involves downhill, close-quarter racing with six-man heats on a layout featuring banked turns and jumps:
Austrian and French racers on the World Cup circuit have begun wearing tight-fitting clothing too closely resembling speed suits that Alpine racers wear.
(X Games officials banned the clothing and no Austrian or French skier made Sunday’s final.)
Reasons for the fuss:
Ski cross was founded by big-mountain freeriders who, Puckett says, “wouldn’t be caught dead in a race suit.”
Many Alpine disciplines, because the athletes all look the same in their Lycra speed uniforms, are experiencing flagging popularity.
Ski cross needs its own identity -- like that established by snowboard cross, which enjoyed a successful Olympic debut in 2006 -- and should be something the younger generation can relate to by being able to purchase the same clothing their favorite athletes wear.
Puckett and Hayer seem hopeful that the International Skiing Federation (FIS) will impose a more precise rule during spring meetings, banning any kind of form-fitting specialty clothing.
But if that doesn’t happen?
“If they don’t change the rule almost everyone will be in suits at the Olympics,” Puckett said. “And I’m not so proud that I won’t go to a suit if that’s the rule.
“I’m not going to miss out on a gold medal because I’m too proud to wear a suit.”
A snowboarder chimes in
Snowboarder X riders are concerned about similar developments in their sport.
Cautioned Nate Holland, who on Saturday won the event for the fourth consecutive year: “I wouldn’t want to be the guy walking around after a race wearing a speed suit -- let me put it that way.”
Last, but not least
T.J. Schiller was allowed into the men’s skiing slopestyle competition as an alternate and won the gold medal. . . . Ophelie David of France edged Magdalena Jonsson of Sweden to three-peat in women’s Skier X. . . . Tyler Franconia of Franconia, N.H., prevailed in the Mono Skier X final. . . . Winter X Games attendance through four days was 68,100, down from 72,500 in 2007.