Leskinen wins pipe battle with friendly foe Burke | VailDaily.com

Leskinen wins pipe battle with friendly foe Burke

Andy Frame

Vail Daily/Preston Utley Kristina Leskinen flies out of the superpipe Thursday during the women's superpipe final at the Gravity Games at Copper Mountain. Leskinen took home the gold.

COPPER MOUNTAIN – Without Freeski pioneers Kristi Leskinen and Sarah Burke, there probably wouldn’t have been a women’s superpipe competition at the Winter Gravity Games at Copper Mountain on Thursday. So it was fitting that the trailblazing pair finished in the top two spots.Leskinen took the gold and $10,000 in what is considered only the second major women’s freeskiing competition ever; the first being at this year’s X Games in Aspen.Leskinen and Burke, both from Mammoth Mountain, Calif., have pioneered the sport for women, often competing against men or only each other. Burke usually comes out on top.”We’re a team,” Leskinen said. “We’ve come at this industry and gone at it together.”

But they weren’t a team on Thursday. With their competitive juices flowing, Burke and Leskinen went as big as they could every trip through the pipe, hoping to come out on top. It was Leskinen that finished the day with a smile on her face.”She’s been above me in every contest for a long time, so to finally win one that really counts is incredible,” the 24-year-old said.The halfpipe competition was organized in a jam format, with every skier making as many runs through the pipe as possible in an hour. Each run was judged on a 100-point scale, with the skier’s highest score counting toward her overall standing. With only eight skiers in the competition, each woman had at least 10 chances to put her best run together. Burke set the bar early, getting her highest score, 84.3, on her first try. She threw down a 540 and a 720 to take the early lead.

With 35 minutes left in the jam, Leskinen topped her longtime friend and rival by landing two seemingly effortless 540s and a 720 at the bottom, scoring an 85.7. Burke had several chances to reclaim the lead, but couldn’t put together a worthy run.”I wasn’t as smooth as I needed to be,” a disappointed Burke said immediately following her final trip through the pipe.Leskinen, who recently posed for FHM magazine, said the prize money at stake in Thursday’s competition was a motivating factor for her.”For the last couple of years, without the big prize money, I haven’t really focused on competing because the rewards weren’t worth the risks,” Leskinen said. “When you get contests like this, it definitely makes you go for it.”

Copper Freeride member Jamie Sundberg took fifth, while former Summit High School gymnast and Vail resident Claudia Bouvier placed sixth.”It didn’t really come together for me today,” Sundberg said. “I was hoping to do back-to-back fives then throw my mctwist, but if you don’t do your first five, you can’t do your second one.” As a pioneer of the sport, Leskinen has seen the talent level improve dramatically from top to bottom in the last 12 months.”This year you saw sevens out of several girls,” Leskinen said. “Last year it was only Sarah doing sevens. And the nines are coming.”For more stories on the 2005 Winter Gravity Games, visit http://www.vaildaily.com.Vail, Colorado