They are a study in contrasts.Tanner Hall is brash, unapologetic and, at times, cantankerous. Sure, the 24-year-old freeskiing icon may be a tad rough around the edges – he showed up to an X Games news conference Wednesday looking sleep-deprived and like he was auditioning for the lead role in a remake of Grizzly Adams. But, on skis, no one exudes more style, technicality, creativity and consistency. Need proof? Try a record six gold medals … and counting. Simon Dumont appears unassuming, tucked behind a pair of oversized Oakleys and a billowing jacket. But the 21-year-old pint-sized pipe phenom isn’t fooling anyone. Not after he was golden in back-to-back Winter X pipe finals in 2004 and 2005. Not after he soared nearly 20 feet out of the Buttermilk superpipe last year – he could’ve high-fived the light stanchions and likely showed up on Sardy Field’s radar. Simon says go big. Dumont is a slingshot pulled taut. He’s the human equivalent of a Vespa with a V12. Awed fans follow every one of his aerial feats, much like tennis fans tracking a volley. The difference? Dumont is the tennis ball. The Bethel, Maine, native is taking freeskiing to once unimaginable heights. Literally. Hall, meanwhile, has become increasingly adamant about pushing the boundaries of the sport outside the confines of ski areas.But the show must go on. And Hall has never been one to shun the limelight – or the chance for a three-peat.Between them, Hall and Dumont have won the last four Winter X pipe finals. The fifth chapter commences Thursday night under the lights in the X Games’ opening, and unquestionably most compelling, act. This was what T.O. was alluding to when he told America to “Getcha popcorn ready.”
If Hall is Bob Marley, then Dumont is AC/DC. But together, these two artists, whose canvas is a rock-hard, 500-foot sheet of rutted ice and snow, have influenced pipe skiing much like their trailblazing snowboarding brethren. They are this weekend’s most intriguing storyline. Last year’s back-and-forth, can-you-top-this tussle was as dramatic a moment as any in a dozen years of Winter X. It took Hall’s switch 1080 off the opening hit – the first he’d ever landed in competition – and a concluding 1080 to upstage the “Maine Event” and his mammoth 1260.It was a battle for the ages. It was Sampras-Agassi. It was Ali-Frazier. It was Bird-Magic – if Magic borrowed some goggles from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the mascot’s trampoline, then did his best impression of a spinning top gone airborne three stories above the parquet. Hall prevailed, 95-94. And while the judging sparked vigorous debate among pipe-ophiles, one thing was clear: Freeskiing would never be the same.Just how impressive was last year’s head-to-head heavyweight bout? The drama was so intense that Carbondale’s Peter Olenick hardly entered the conversation, despite defying gravity – and sanity – with his signature Whiskey Flip, a double backflip with a twist. Olenick was a hand drag and a backseat landing away from pipe immortality. The much-anticipated encore kicks off Thursday.”Last year was crazy, but this year is going to be on a whole other level,” Hall said. “Guys are spinning both ways and doing alley-oops. There’s going to be some 9’s, some 10’s, some 12’s. “I’m more on it than I’ve ever been before.”So is freeskiing. As bold athletes continue to test conventional wisdom, their limits and their ball-and-socket joints, the only foreseeable limitations are imagination – and a pesky thing called physics. Reservations won’t be accepted tonight. On this unforgiving terrain, attitude and magnitude will be as crucial as bindings and poles.Count on Hall and Dumont, two animated champions casting a shadow over a sport overflowing with characters as colorful as their clothes, to lead the charge.
Will Hall become the first athlete to win a seventh gold? Will Dumont one-up his good friend by soaring to a third pipe victory in five years? Will Olenick or one of a cast of young shredders steal the show on freeskiing’s biggest stage? Just make sure you can see the pipe.Men’s skiing superpipe qualifyingWednesday(Top 10 advance to Thursday’s finals at 7:30 p.m.)1. Tanner Hall, Kalispell, Montana, 95.332. Simon Dumont, Bethel, Maine, 89.333. Kevin Rolland, La Plagne, France, 82.664. Andreas Hatveit, Sudndalen, Norway, 78.005. Mike Riddle, Sherwood Park, AB, Canada, 75.336. Jossi Wells, Wanaka, New Zealand, 75.007. Matt Hayward, Red Deer, AB, Canada, 73.008. Colby West, Canterbury, N.H., 72.339. Peter Olenick, Carbondale, Colorado, 72.0010. Sean Field, Tahoe City, Calif., 70.0011. Sammy Carlson, Tigard, Oregon, 69.0012. John Symms, Salt Lake City, Utah, 67.0013. Stefan Thomas, Park City, Utah, 65.3314. Xavier Bertoni, La Clusaz, France, 45.0015. Justin Dorey, Vernon, BC, Canada, 36.6616. Brent Abrams, South Lake Tahoe, Calif., 19.00Sports columnist Jon Maletz, aka The Hammer, can be reached at email@example.com.
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With 4/20 long designated as the holiday for getting high, another date on the calendar, which stands for “oil” backwards, has gained momentum in the post-legalization era.