Some people call them ‘extreme sports.’ Others prefer the term ‘alternative sports.’ And until relatively recently, the well-to-do citizens of the world wanted to hide their daughters and head for the hills when they saw the athletes who participate in these activities coming at them.
Whether snowboarders, skateboarders or surfers, mainstream America hasn’t known what to make of these people who would rather ride a board of some kind, completely vulnerable to the most unforgiving iron law of gravity, instead of kicking or throwing a ball on a field with their friends.
But this attitude has been changing in the last decade or so, partly due to programs like ESPN’s X Games, and partly due to the fact that these sports aren’t as new and strange as they used to be. Snowboarding has gone from being called ‘the worst new sport’ by a skier in a 1988 Time Magazine article, to being an officially recognized Olympic event in 2002. People of all social statuses and personality types head to the slopes to snowboard every winter.
When Mary Simons said in the Time Magazine article, ‘Snowboarding is not about grace and style but about raging hormones,’ she probably couldn’t have dreamt that 14 years later Americans would be cheering snowboarders to victory in the Olympics, claiming all the medals for the men’s half-pipe and the gold for women’s. Most of the criteria on which competitors are judged are actually based on grace and style, making snowboard competitions as much about artistic expression as physicality.
In 2006, the United States took the gold and silver medals in this event for guys and girls, and a long-haired kid from San Diego became an international sports hero when he earned the gold.
This kid was Shaun White, and his shaggy red hair, combined with his ability to launch into perfectly controlled tricks that his competitors were still trying to get the hang of, earned him the nickname ‘The Flying Tomato.’
Just before the Olympics, White had taken first place in the 2006 X Games’ Slopestyle and Superpipe competitions, and was expected to win again since the competition was basically the same.
After almost failing to qualify when he botched a landing before the games started, White did live up to expectations and bring home the gold. He was consistently getting more air and pulling bigger spins than anybody else, and when this year’s X Games rolled around, just about everybody expected him to win all the snowboard trick contests once again.
And just about everybody was surprised when White didn’t win a thing. His competitors have pretty much caught up to him trick-wise, and everybody’s pulling their tricks off more smoothly and stylishly than ever before.
These days, for a guy to have a shot at winning the X Games’ half-pipe competition, he’s probably going to need to perfectly execute three 1080s (that’s 360 degrees times three, or three complete rotations, ). He should expect to be looking about three stories down to the bottom of the pipe at the peak of his biggest jumps.
That’s to have a shot at winning. Since there are a handful of guys who can pull this off now, the entire run has to be virtually flawless. Chad Otterstrum, who landed a 1260, was rewarded with 10th place because the trick killed his momentum. Nothing’s guaranteed, as White found out this January.
He was beat out in the pipe by Steve Fisher, who won the event a few years ago and hasn’t placed high enough to be worth mentioning since. This is one thing that’s interesting about these ‘extreme sports’