X Games athletes differ on the new jam session style judging at Buttermilk
In sports, it’s not often there is a competition without a transparent scoring or timing system. This week at X Games Aspen has been a case study in how competitions can go for athletes and audience alike when there is no explicit scoring for the competitors and fans to reference during and after contests.
For this year’s event, X Games Aspen opted for a “jam” competition format. That meant all athletes in skiing and snowboarding competitions ran through the big air, slopestyle or superpipe courses one after the other for a set amount of time. Once the clock expired, any athletes who had not had their chance in that round of runs got a final opportunity to have the same amount of attempts as the other competitors.
As the jam clock counted down, and after each athlete finished a run during the overall timed round, the X Games broadcast updated an unofficial ranking of the active athletes. The scoreboard only presented the order of the athletes, sans score. The athletes were ranked based on what the X Games officials described as “overall impression.”
“Overall, we are happy with how the competitions flowed. We were able to deliver a lot more action to our fans and highlight the remarkable skills and talents of the best action sports athletes in the world,” X Games vice president Tim Reed said in a statement sent Sunday night. “We’ll take a look at all of the shows and as we do with all aspects of our business we’ll look to continue to evolve in the future and make the necessary tweaks.”
In the past, X Games has used a jam format for some competitions, such as big air. But in those years past, athletes and fans saw scores for each jump flash up on the screen next to the athletes’ rank. This year, the jam format was new for slopestyle and superpipe, which traditionally has been operated in the Olympic style, where athletes have a set number of attempts, typically two or three, to have runs count toward their score, typically one or two. After each attempt, they see their score.
The change in this year’s scoring and competition format had mixed reviews from the athletes.
Snowboard slopestyle gold medalist Darcy Sharpe said he thought the change allowed for more creativity and opportunity for athletes to mess up somewhere on the course and not worry about it instantly tanking their chances.
“I have stayed true to this from the start,” the Canadian star said. “I absolutely love the format. … When I was a kid I would get post-X Games depression. Straight up, I’d be like so sad. There’d be two runs done, and I’d be like, ‘No. It’s over already.’ Now, you get to watch riding the whole contest. If somebody falls, they can still do tricks. … You’re not just doing one line practicing the same thing over and over again like a little robot.”
Sharpe’s result in the new format may have been the most interesting and surprising of the entire X Games. After three runs, Sharpe was in last entering his final run. He put down a great run, he soared into first. And the unofficial scoreboard flashed the change seconds after the guy who was in first, Red Gerard of Summit County, dropped in for his run, seemingly unaware of the score change.
Afterward, Gerard said he wasn’t giving the score or format too much thought. His bigger focus was staying in the moment, not worrying about the score, and riding as well as he could. He ended up with a bronze medal.
Sharpe’s older sister Cassie, who won bronze in ski superpipe, echoed a sentiment of many athletes this week, including Canadian star Mark McMorris, who took silver in big air Saturday night, and Summit County snowboarder Chris Corning. Without explicit scores, Cassie Sharpe said, it’s hard to know what exactly you need to do or what else you should have done.
“You get variation, you get all these things that are amazing with it,” she said, “but they don’t have a solid way of saying you need to do this to win. It’s kind of like you’re blind.”
After Corning missed the cut for the snowboard big air final, he put it in context, saying he and his U.S. Snowboard Team coaches Mike Ramirez and Dave Reynolds didn’t know what the judges wanted.
“It’s really hard, because you don’t know where you’re sitting,” Corning said. “You know you’re under them, but you don’t know how far you are under them.”
American Maggie Voisin, who won bronze in ski slopestyle Sunday, said she felt the traditional format forces progression more because she thinks focusing on one run pushes athletes further. American halfpipe freeski star Aaron Blunck of Crested Butte, on the other hand, thinks the new format makes athletes have to be more versatile.
“We get so caught up with that one-run format,” Blunck said, “so everyone works for that one run. It’s really cool to be able to go into it all and do everything and change who you are as a skier.”
Aspen Times Sports Editor Austin Colbert and Steamboat Pilot & Today Sports Editor Shelby Reardon contributed to this report.
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