Fisher puts last season in the past
BRECKENRIDGE ” Steve Fisher leafs through a German snowboard magazine on a bluebird day in Breckenridge, eagerly seeking a story he has been awaiting for months. He is featured in the piece, and is obviously interested to see how it turned out.
When he finds the section he’s looking for, his eyes focus on the photos (the text is in German). Included in the feature are a number of large, glossy action shots of riders soaring through the air. When asked which ones are of him, Fisher points to a single shot tucked toward the bottom of a page. “Just this small one,” he says, then puts the magazine down.
Less than a year ago, this might have been a case of irresponsible editing. Fisher was at the height of his professional career then, the reigning Winter X Games pipe champ and a name every event promoter wanted for his competition.
Then a string of nagging injuries, a drastic loss of confidence and unexpectedly poor results changed Fisher’s profile. It culminated in X Games disaster. Hoping to defend his title, Fisher fell during both of his qualifying runs and finished dead last in front of millions on ESPN. He’d broken his board in training and rode a friend’s board in the competition, but he didn’t make excuses. Instead, he drove home as fast as he could.
Fisher rebounded to take second at the U.S. Open later in the season, but as a whole, the story reeked of “What happened?” How could a season of such promise be followed by one of equal disappointment?
As he tells it now, Fisher, 23, simply crumpled under the pressure to live up to the expectations he’d created the previous season.
“The year before (all the success) I was more the underdog rider going into events ” no one really had much expectations,” said Fisher, who won three other major pipe competitions in the 2003-2004 season, in addition to X Games gold. “And then after such a good year, I guess I just put a lot of pressure on myself, and from sponsors also. … I think that’s what killed me.”
In particular, Fisher recalls a comment from one of his sponsors just days before he would try to defend his gold medal at the X Games.
“Hey, how come you’re not winning anymore?” the team manager asked.
Fisher stared at her in disbelief. It was the question on the minds of many, but one he wasn’t prepared to answer.
“I was just so taken aback by it,” he says now. “It f—– me up for the rest of the season.”
As Fisher prepares for this week’s Chevy Trucks U.S. Snowboard Grand Prix at his home pipe, he is hoping to do two things: One, put last season behind him once and for all, and two, craft a successful beginning in the Olympic-qualifying process that could land him a spot in Turin, Italy, site of the 2006 Winter Games.
If his riding and demeanor of late are any indication, it appears he’s well on his way to meeting both of his goals.
According to U.S. Snowboarding freestyle head coach Bud Keene, Fisher ” who is entering his fourth year on the national team ” is a different competitor at 23 than he was at 22.
“He’s grown a lot, in maturity,” the coach said. “He’s back in a position where he can handle that level of success. And now he wants it again, and it’s coinciding with an Olympic year. The goal is clear: It’s not just, hey, go out there and do as well as you can. It’s, hey, get on the Olympic team, and then it’s, hey, do well at the Olympics after that.”
In an attempt to diversify his riding, Fisher spent a full month this summer working on his Cab 900 and Cab 1080 in New Zealand. (A Cab trick involves a switch frontside spin.) “He’s riding the pipe better than he ever has,” Keene said.
This will likely be key as he attempts to prove to the snowboard industry that the aberration was last year, not the previous season. And prove he will have to; despite winning X Games gold in 2004, it was his last-place finish in 2005 that stuck in the minds of X Games organizers, who didn’t invite Fisher back this year.
Keene calls Fisher a “frontrunner” to claim one of the four spots on the Olympic team, which will be determined by a rider’s results on the Grand Prix tour. Fisher is focused on making it happen, though he doesn’t consider himself a shoo-in.
“I wouldn’t say that it’s going to crush my whole world or career if I don’t make it, because there’s so many different aspects to snowboarding as a professional,” he said. “But it’s kind of getting to me. Family’s already bought tickets, girlfriend’s family is already getting tickets. And I’m like, Whoa, you guys don’t even realize, I might not even go.”
The Steve Fisher of 2003-04 ” his dream season ” saw success largely because of his technical riding, but even more because his cool head allowed him immunity against every level of pressure. That changed last year. And he knows if he is going to rediscover his once-untouchable halfpipe identity, it starts in his mind.
“This year I think it’s the same as before” the 2003-04 season, Fisher said Thursday. “You know, great rider, not sure if he’ll be able to put it together or not.”
Fisher flashes a brief grin of confidence. “That’s where I like to be.”