Steamboat scores twice at X Games
Snowboarders Matt Ladley and Taylor Gold have been riding together since they were young children, growing up and learning the sport at Howelsen Hill in downtown Steamboat Springs and at nearby Steamboat Ski Area.
Now, both established in the elite world of halfpipe snowboarding, the old friends often still travel together to competitions around the world then compete together at them.
Thursday night the pair rode together to two of the biggest results in Steamboat snowboarding history.
Both overcame difficult conditions to earn podium finishes at the X Games men’s snowboard superpipe final in Aspen, placing second and third.
Gold laid down a solid second run to set his best score at 79.00, good for second place at the time. He then watched as the rest of the best snowboarders in the world each took their shot at unseating him.
None could until Ladley came along, the final rider of the night. He scored 80.00, locking up second place and ensuring the podium in the sport’s biggest event would be two-thirds Steamboat.
“Two Steamboats on the podium, we’re hyped,” Ladley said. “We hope Steamboat’s hyped, too.”
Neither have had an easy go of it recently, making the result extra special for both.
Gold wasn’t even sure he would be able to compete. His progress was slow regaining health after breaking his knee cap last winter. His summer training was severely limited, and he wasn’t able to really dive into halfpipe training until late December.
Then, in his first major competition back, just last week, he dislocated his shoulder and had to sit out again.
Add to that a stigma that’s always existed for him at X Games. He’s been one of the circuit’s most successful riders, a 2014 Winter Olympian who won big-time events against elite fields. In four trips to Aspen, however, he’d not only never placed, he’d never even made the finals or even recorded a single good run.
That middle part was made easy for him Thursday. There wasn’t a preliminary round, so he was automatically into finals. The last problem took some work.
He flew through two big hits on his first run but lost speed heading into his third, then fumbled his grab as he tried to fly through his trick, the double Mikaelchuck. It all resulted in a hard landing on the snow.
His second run, however, wasn’t huge and wasn’t mistake free, but he stayed on his feet.
He threw his arms up as he reached the bottom of the pipe, took off his helmet and grinned wide as ESPN’s cameras focused on him and the crowd cheered. He didn’t even stop after his score — beatable, he assumed — was announced.
“The last year’s been such a hard year,” Gold said. “To just put down a run was awesome. I was so happy.
“The thing about X Games, all the kids growing up, it was always the event I considered the biggest snowboarding contest. I’ve always wanted to do well here. It means so much to finally do that.”
Ladley had endured a better past 12 months than Gold. He won last year’s X Games, for instance. Still, he may have had a worse 24 hours leading up to Thursday’s competition.
A hard-ice halfpipe at last week’s event, the Laax Open in Switzerland, took a toll on his snowboard supply. He then broke several more boards training in Aspen. He sent to Denver, where he currently lives, for a few leftover boards from last year but his luck didn’t change. He somehow broke two more.
As the defending X Games champ, Ladley got the right to be the last man down the pipe in the last run. By the time he made it that far, he was riding an old board several inches shorter than he was accustomed to.
“It was a stressful evening,” he said.
He made it work. He won his first X Games medal a year ago in a flukey superpipe competition that was shortened to just one run by heavy snowfall.
On Thursday, all the top snowboarders in the world got their chances. Eight-time X Games superpipe champ and two-time Olympic gold medalist Shaun White, back in Aspen after missing last year, couldn’t put down either of his runs. He placed 11th in the 12-rider field.
Reigning Olympic gold medalist Iouri Podladtchikov couldn’t either, placing 10th.
Two-time X Games champ and snowboard style master Danny Davis did lay down a run late in the competition, but it scored in at 74.00.
This time they all got a crack, and in good weather, and Ladley again came up on the podium.
“I’m never trying to prove anything,” he said. “Last year, I don’t think a real X Games win, but I’m pretty happy now. We all had a fighting chance. It was anyone’s game. This feels real.”
Only Australian rider Scotty James bested the Steamboat boys. He scored 90.00 on what was the first run of the entire contest. He had to wait through 23 more runs to claim his gold medal.
“I was very nervous,” James said, considering that long wait from his big result to claiming his medal. “This means the world to me. It’s cliche of me to say it’s a dream come true, but a lot of guys think of winning the gold medal at X Games. Today it happened for me, and I’m beyond stoked.”
Steamboat’s riders, too, were most certainly stoked.
Ladley stood atop the pipe, all the pressure of the night, the year even, on him, along with all the eyes of fans watching on ESPN.
He put down one of his best runs, wrapping up a huge night for Steamboat.
“A lot was going through my head, but I needed to just forget about all of that,” he said. “I thought, ‘You’re the last one up here. Just enjoy it. Don’t think about what anyone else has put down. Don’t think about last year. Don’t think about anything. This is what you’ve dreamed forever since you were a kid. Just go do your thing.’”
To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253, email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @JReich9
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