Jen Hudak wins pipe gold |

Jen Hudak wins pipe gold

Jon Maletz
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Jen Hudak, of Aspen, Colo., competes on her way to taking first place in the women's superpipe skiing final round at the Winter X Games at Buttermilk Mountain outside Aspen, Colo., on Friday, Jan. 29, 2010. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

ASPEN – It’s safe to say the comeback is complete.

Jen Hudak spent the better part of the last year recovering from a substantial left knee injury. Friday, she claimed Winter X Games gold in women’s ski superpipe.

The 23-year-old Connecticut native and Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club post-graduate skier posted two scores in the 90s, showcasing some impressive amplitude and a host of technical tricks. She held off a last-second push from top qualifier and X Games rookie Megan Gunning (90.66) to seal the win – and thwart Sarah Burke’s bid for a four-peat.

Calgary, Alberta’s Roz Groenewoud (86) overcame a rib injury sustained in Thursday’s slopestyle to nab bronze.

“It’s been a long road to recovery and a lot of doubts along the way,” Hudak said. “This is the best dream you can every imagine.”

Hudak landed backwards on an attempted 720, caught an edge and was thrown into the opposite wall during a pipe run at Jan. 31, 2009’s World Cup event in Park City, Utah. She wound up tearing her meniscus and cartilage – all the way to the bone in some areas.

She had surgery in March in San Francisco. Doctors told her the cartilage would be firm in six months, but likely would take a year to fully mature.

“It’s a lot more of a finesse game, a patience game,” she told The Aspen Times last week. “That’s not really my style.”

Months of rehab culminated with a second-place finish at a recent Dew Tour stop in Utah. Friday, she took another major step.

After an opening run that featured a 900 off the first hit, some stylish straight airs, back-to-back 540s and a 720 at the bottom of Buttermilk’s 567-foot superpipe, Hudak punched the air with both gloves and flashed a wide grin for the cameras. The sight would become familiar.

She posted a 92.33 on the second run to bolster her lead. Gunning, the 17-year-old from Calgary, Alberta, who was second with an 87 after the opening run, fell and lost a ski on an attempted corked 720 in the second.

With silver already assured, Gunning, the last to drop in, had one last chance to knock off Hudak in the third round.

“I had no nerves at all, to be honest,” Gunning said. “It’s all gaining experience for myself. I wanted to have fun with it.”

Hudak, who led for nearly all of 2009’s contest before Burke dropped her into silver position on the last run of the night, knew better than to celebrate prematurely.

“I wasn’t counting Megan out,” Hudak said. “I’ve learned that lesson.”

Gunning made things interesting, but ultimately finished about two points short.

“I’m only 17, so I was super stoked with everything,” Gunning gushed.

Burke, who nabbed the last qualifying spot on Thursday, wound up sixth – matching her finish in Thursday’s slopestyle. The 27-year-old had medaled in every X Games since 2005.

She was trying to become just the fourth athlete in Winter X History to win four consecutive golds – joining Shaun White (snowboard slopestyle), Nate Holland (boardercross) and Janna Meyen-Weatherby (snowboard slopestyle).

“She’s really been an amazing leader in our sport,” Hudak said of Burke. “She’s still pushing the envelope … every time she puts on skis.”

Still, Friday’s competition might have signaled a changing of the guard.

Hudak, the lone American in Friday’s field, is happy to lead that charge.

“This has been a goal of mine … since I first did X Games, so the last six years,” she said. “To have a goal for six years, stick with it … and watch it slip away a few times, you keep fighting. Your dream is what you live for.”

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