ASPEN " The Winter X Games ski superpipe final is not a two-man show anymore.
Frenchman Xavier Bertoni failed to qualify for the pipe final in his first trip to Aspen in 2008. In Thursday's highly anticipated final at Buttermilk, he stole the show under the lights.
The 20-year-old was consistent, completing three runs that garnered scores of 87.66 or higher. His second, which was virtually flawless despite being technically demanding, earned a 93.66 from the judges. That number was more than enough to propel him in unexpected, but dominating fashion past podium fixtures Tanner Hall and Simon Dumont, who, for the first time in a half-decade, were left battle it out for silver and bronze.
Vive la France.
"When I was young, it was a dream just to do the X Games," Bertoni said. "Now, to just win, it is not a dream. It is more than a dream. It is awesome."
The man who takes summer marketing courses at a university in Annecy, France, might have to put that education to good use if he continues to perform like he did on action sports' biggest stage. Bertoni's night began with a soaring 540 in which he climbed 17 feet above the pipe " nearly four stories from the flat " and ended when he was mobbed by friends and competitors in the finish area. In between, he captivated the crowd with a second run that awed even the most accomplished skiers.
He started with a reverse 540, landed back-to-back 900s, then a frontside 360, a switch 720 and a clean 1260.
Six hits. One gold.
"Watch out for French guys," said Simon Dumont, who settled for bronze. "They can ski pipe."
The Bethel, Maine, native knows that well. The last man not named Hall or Dumont to capture gold in this event was Candide Thovex in 2003. Coincidentally, both Thovex and Bertoni hail from La Clusaz in southeast France.
"I come from the same resort, and we have good relations," Bertoni said of Thovex. "I'm sure we'll do a big party when I come back."
Hall had a chance to put that celebration on ice. The Kalispell, Mont., native, who Thursday was gunning for a fourth consecutive pipe crown and a record eighth Winter X gold, was the last to drop.
After a fall on the first run and some gaffes during the second, Hall admitted to feeling the pressure. In his three previous gold-medal performances, Hall sealed victory with standout second runs.
There would be no victory lap like in 2008 this time around.
"It was crazy that I had to throw down my third run and stick it," he said. "I was nervous going in, but when you lay it down, it makes it feel that much better."
Hall's third run, one highlighted by a double backflip off the first hit that sent mouths agape, was stellar. On any other night, it likely would've been good enough for gold.
But as he skidded to a stop in the finish area, Hall seemed resigned to his fate as he watched the large video screen. A score of 92 lifted him one point ahead of friend Dumont and into second place. He was the first to congratulate Bertoni, tackling the winner to the snow.
On this night, Hall was more than happy to settle for silver " his 12th Winter X medal.
"I wanted to go out and land a big run and have as much fun as possible. When you have fun, that's when the results come," Hall said. "I'm happy with the outcome, and I'm happy with where the sport is. ... No bummed out feelings. I'm the happiest man in the world right now."
"The kid was on his game and skied better than anyone tonight," added Dumont. "He deserved to win. ... I think we all put on a good show."
Dumont, the unquestioned fan favorite, tried to sneak in one final hit during the first run but ran out of pipe and awkwardly drilled the deck. He regrouped in the second run, soaring more than 19 feet above the pipe walls on his first hit, then landing back-to-back 900s, a 1260 and a 1080 to post a score of 90.
He was one point better on his third attempt. But even the sport's highest flyer couldn't top Bertoni on this night.
The Frenchman's win, however improbable, was hardly a fluke. While he concedes that his English is poor at best, Bertoni's skiing translates in any language. He made the podium six times during the 2008 season and earlier this year won a World Cup halfpipe event on home snow.
"I work hard for that," Bertoni said. "Right now, I can't believe it. It's amazing for me."
La Clusaz's population: About 2,000. The town's number of men's ski superpipe gold medalists?
Make that two.
Go to www.aspentimes.com/xgames for ongoing coverage of Winter X Games 13.
1. Xavier Bertoni / 93.66 / La Clusaz, France
2. Tanner Hall / 92.00 / Kalispell, Mont.
3. Simon Dumont / 91.00/ Bethel, Maine
4. Justin Dorey / 83.33 / Vernon, BC, Canada
5. Colby West / 79.33 / Breckenridge, Colo.
6. Duncan Adams / 74.66 / Breckenridge, Colo.
7. AJ Kemppainen / 72.33 / Kuusamo, Finland
8. Kevin Rolland / 50.00 / La Plagne, France