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The X Games’ evolution of revolutions

Ryan Slabaugh

Shortly after the U.S. men’s snowboard team swept the Salt Lake City Olympic halfpipe competition in 2002, while gold medalist Ross Powers toured the late-night television circuit, the U.S. Snowboard Sport Committee met.

It was May 17. The group was excited to discuss its sudden success, and how to convince Fortune 500 sponsors to latch onto the Dudes that Could. Little did the committee know they were setting the stage for one of the fastest-growing sports in the world, and little did they know that, four years later, their conversation would seem so outdated.

To prove the point, a representative from the world’s governing body of snowboarding (the International Federation of Skiing (FIS)), was asked at the meeting about the chances that athletes would wear helmets.

Commitee chair Gary Taylor: “… I know in the finals of the Olympics, of the 12 guys competing, only one guy had a helmet, and half of the girls wore helmets in the finals. A number of the top athletes don’t wear them and don’t like them, so what’s your feeling as an athlete?”

Athlete representative Ricky Bower: “Well, I think it’s up to the individual. I think a lot of the athletes would put up a big protest about having to wear helmets, especially at the World Cup level … I think you would also see a lot of people taking that rule and just going in stride with it.”

Now, in a land not so far away, in a time not so far in the future, it’s unthinkable to compete in 19-foot-tall superpipes without a helmet. The progression has forced riders to take precautions. Injuries could, ultimately, mean a loss of a career.

Still, snowboarders continue to progress at a phenomenal rate. In 2002, Powers won the gold medal with a combination of a switch McTwist and a backside 360 ” not easy tricks, but tricks more common on the junior circuit in 2006.

This accelerated progression became evident in 2004, when Breckenridge’s Steve Fisher raised the bar at Winter X Games VIII. His 1080 (three full spins) on the last hit spun the snowboarding world into new dimensions. Last year, Finland’s Antti Autti landed two 1080s in his gold medal run ” on the first two hits, nonetheless.

Even progression’s poster boy, Shaun White, had to shake his head, return to the drawing board, and tell an interviewer this year he had three 1080s on his mind.

ESPN X Games host Sal Masakela, who has seen every X Games progression since ESPN hired him in 1999, said the sport’s progression had, excuse the cliche, its pedal to the metal.

“It really is month-to-month,” he said of the rate of progression. ” I always use ths analogy: You take one move from any sport ” say the triple sal-chow ” and someone lands a triple sal-chow. Then someone takes a variation of the triple sal-chow, say they add a toe hold (laughs) … that may last all year. But that’s a sport that’s grown and been through the heavy progression stage. If we were in the same place in all of these sports, it would be easier to compare how fast they are progresssing.”

Kelly Clark, the 2002 Olympic gold medalist, agreed. She won her medal with a 540 and a McTwist. Now, a handful of female riders are pulling 900s with ease, meaning the 1080 can’t be too far off.

While sitting in a press conference with a taped shoulder Friday in Aspen, Clark said the question, “How far can it go?” is too hard to answer.

“It’s still a growing sport,” Clark said. “It’s got a long way to go. It’s hard to say where it will stop. It does seem to be speeding up, though.”

Todd Richards, a 30-something snowboarding legend who has a home in Blue River, said progression is the driving force behind making snowboarding a career, or just being a flash in the pan.

“I’m trying to stay relevant,” said Richards, who competed at this year’s X Games. “I’ve seen a lot of hot s***s come and go, but I love hanging out with the kids. Progressing with them is now my life.”

Eddie Wall, a young up-and-comer who immediately consulted Richards after Friday’s slopestyle qualifier, is one of those hot s***s. Wall got into Saturday’s finals. Richards did not.

“It’s pretty serious now,” Wall said. “People are starting to get lost out there ” there will always be two or three guys out there pushing everyone else. All you can do is practice. All you can do is stay in touch.”

Ryan Slabaugh can be contacted at rslabaugh@summitdaily.com

Aspen, Colorado


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