Burke goes back-to-back in the pipe | VailDaily.com

Burke goes back-to-back in the pipe

Jon Maletz
Aspen Correspondent
Vail, CO Colorado
Jordan Curet The Aspen Times
ALL | The Aspen Times

ASPEN, Colorado ” This was not the way reigning gold medalist Sarah Burke hoped her title defense would begin.

Just three tricks into the first of her two runs in Friday’s women’s skiing superpipe finals, the Whistler, British Columbia, native attempted a straight 900 and hit the deck. One ski popped off, and she fell 17 feet to the flat.

If Burke wasn’t feeling anxious before, she was now.

“My parents make fun of me. They say I always crash (on the first run), and it makes everyone sick with nerves,” she joked. “I was kind of bummed. I was hoping to get that first run in the bag and take the pressure off.”

It would take more than a fall to rattle Burke, however. After all, she broke her nose during practice before last year’s pipe final. But after laying down a final run score of 90 to out-duel Grete Eliassen, Burke ” swollen eyes, bruised nose and all ” was grinning from ear to ear as she clutched gold.

Burke proved her mettle this time around, too. She calmly and dominantly completed a run down the 500-foot Buttermilk pipe to blow away the field, soaring high on a 900, an alley-oop 540 and a 720.

She posted a 92, 10.67 points ahead of Switzerland’s Mirjam Jaeger. Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club rider Jen Hudak (78.33) staved off a late push from Jess Cumming to finish third for a second straight year.

Eliassen, a two-time pipe gold medalist, wound up sixth ” she failed to finish first or second for the first time since the event was added to the Winter X schedule in 2005.

“It’s the best feeling ever. I’m still trying to take it all in,” Burke said. “I really wanted it this time.”

A first-run fall didn’t phase Hudak, either. She managed to land an alley-oop 540, a trick she said she hadn’t landed consistently until last week, but stumbled on a 720.

“It was a shocker for me,” she said. “There was a tremendous amount of pressure out there.”

But there was no way Hudak would go conservative when she dropped in for a second time. Not with a host of Aspen Ski Club athletes crowding the finish area to cheer her on.

And not after last year.

“I was comfortable knowing I might fall on my second run,” Hudak said. “I’m not comfortable doing safety runs. I ended up on the podium with a safety run last year, but it didn’t feel as good.”

Sure, the drama between pipe’s biggest names, Eliassen and Burke, didn’t materialize. But Hudak, the first of 12 athletes to drop in both rounds, was forced to sweat it out after initially vaulting into second with a 78.33. Burke bumped her into the bronze position, and then Cumming, the final competitor, nearly knocked her off the podium.

Hudak admitted she was holding her breath while judges deliberated.

She can exhale now.

“It was hard because Jess is one of my good friends, if not my best friend. I want to see her do well ” but not better than me.”

After a string of recent third-place finishes, first-run leader Jaeger said she was happy to see silver instead of bronze. The 25-year-old former snowboarder, who switched to skis four years ago, was fifth here in 2007.

“I knew she was going to stick it,” Jaeger said of Burke. “Even when she falls, she handles the pressure really good.”

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