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Fiala enters as dark horse, determined to prove he belongs

Devon O'Neil
Summit Daily News
WX10 Fiala, Jake PU 1-26
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While attending the Colorado Avalanche vs. Calgary Flames hockey game Tuesday night in Denver, something caught the ear of Jake Fiala.

It was the people next to him. Normal, everyday city people. They were talking about the Winter X Games.

Fiala knew what he was getting into beforehand, but this validated it once more: Within the action sports competition circles, there is the X Games, then there is everything else.

In a little over a year competing as a skiercross racer (or something of the sort, depending on the event), Fiala has seen what everything else has to offer. This weekend, he will experience the X Games.

“It’s huge,” the Frisco resident said. “Skiercross isn’t in the Olympics, like boardercross, so this is as big as it gets.”

Fiala, 30, is a first-time competitor at the X Games, and he goes in as a dark horse to win it. That doesn’t mean he won’t. Among the dark horses ” and there are quite a few ” in the 30-man “Skier X” field, Fiala enters as the least dark.

Most recently, he finished a shocking second at the Jeep King of the Mountain competition in Banff, Alberta. He got hot when it counted, earned a qualifier’s berth in the main event, then beat some of the world’s best to reach the final.

The next weekend, CBS aired the competition in a prime afternoon sports slot. Friends whom Fiala hadn’t heard from in years called to congratulate him on his new sport.

To hear Fiala explain it, the sudden surge seems simple. He has committed himself to succeeding in skiercross ” which is filled with retired alpine World Cup skiers like himself. Last year he entered only one competition: the Winter Gravity Games, where he surprised even himself and took third, less than a month after he decided to retire from the U.S. Ski Team.

This year, Fiala ditched the old giant slalom skis he’d been using and reintroduced the concept of training to his athletic routine (he hits super G courses and the terrain park, where he prepares for the challenging jumps in skiercross events). He has also taken the equipment side of the sport more seriously, working hand in hand with an Atomic technician and testing up to 10 pairs of skis before each competition.

Now he gets to prove he belongs on the growing sport’s biggest stage. Fiala said Wednesday he will be disappointed if he doesn’t advance to Sunday’s six-man final. Still, there are 30 racers in the field, and plenty of them have more experience elbowing their way down a skiercross course.

Fiala, one of the heftiest racers in the field at 210 pounds, pegged past champions Casey Puckett of Aspen and Zach and Reggie Crist of Idaho as the favorites, along with Tomas Kraus of the Czech Republic.

But he can’t hide the fact that he believes in himself, too.

Devon O’Neil can be contacted at doneil@summitdaily.com.


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