Great balls of fire
VAIL – Nothing lights a fire under a board like … a giant fireball. If a huge flame exploding underfoot on the 75-foot big air jump wasn’t incentive enough for riders to go higher and harder, well, maybe $30,000 in first-place prize money was the ultimate push.Let’s just say that balls of fire were not in short supply among the competitors in Saturday’s Session slopestyle finals. And, Shaun White made the hottest reach for the big flame. He won the event with a 97-point, top-run score and a quartet of 900-degree spins. Andreas Wiig won $20,000 for second place, Rahm Klampert $15,000 for third, Mikka Hast $10,000 for fourth and Nate Sheehan $5,000 for fifth.”Oh man, I love the flames,” White said after the contest. “In the air, I look back at them. I get mad if there’s no flames. I’m going to start demanding flames … as heat.”The heat was on, and White was behind the charge. However, Wiig, who, having grown up in Norway, is accustom to riding in the dark, lit the first fire on the first run of the contest, which was conducted in The Sessions format, where all 15 riders could throw down as many runs as they could – it turned out to be about five each – in the hour-and-a-half duration of the finals. Wiig led the first run with 91 points, but then was upstaged with a nearly flawless streak of White, involving lots of air, lots of fire, and four impeccable 900-degree spins.Round and round and round
Backwards, forwards, upside-down, right-side up, 75 feet of air beneath him, his whole visual spectrum flying by two-and-a-half times on the last four hits … did White get dizzy?”It was pretty intense,” he said. “The ones that were the hardest was the backside-9 and the cab-9. Because, to come out of one spin, you’re like, ‘Whoa,’ then, right into the next one. I don’t know, I just held it together somehow.”While finding a focal point might have been more difficult for riders in the darkness of Saturday night’s contest, the fireball sufficed as a guiding light.”It’s dark out, so some of the takeoffs are in the dark,” White said. “So, you’re going at it, and you’re like, I don’t know if I’m going fast enough. In the day, you can see everything, so it throws you off a little bit. But, it’s like a jam, so we all got like five runs. But I just knew (after the 97-point run), I could do a better run.Klampert was the first brave soul of the 15 competing in the finals to throw a 1080, and White, having only ever previously rotated so much by accident, decided he had a safe enough lead to let it all hang out for his final run.”Why not?” he said. “I’m like, whatever. I’m going to do three 900s and a 1080 and I stuck it and I couldn’t believe it.”White was so elated about landing his 1080 that when he hit the rails and laid down a run-of-the-mill slide, he fell right off the metal like a first-timer.
“A day ago, I tried a 900 and I went 10 and didn’t make it. It was an accident. So I was like, why not try it tonight?” White said. “I did it and I couldn’t believe it. Then, I come down into the rails and I’m so excited that I fall. I was like, ‘After all this stuff, you fall on the rails?’ It’s like hitting a big jump then falling when turning. Definitely sticking the rails is the goal now.”It’s got to end in a slideSpinning hundreds of time while airborne five separate times is a challenge enough, but landing the big air jump and having to finish off with a couple of rail slides makes slopestyle a tough lineup with lots of chances to both shine and sink.”It’s definitely hard to get everything perfect,” Wiig said. “It would suck to do all the jumps first and then sketch on the rails. A lot of people did that.”Wiig finished with 95 points on his third run where he threw two 9s and a big backside 720. He said although the odds aren’t there for the perfect suit, The Session’s format provides several chances to draw a good hand. He was happy with the best point total of his career. “I could always do better, but I’ve never had that many points,” he said. “The format’s good since you can take so many runs in the final. It makes it easier to get a good run. We had more chances to try something gnarly.”When you have somebody like White governing the degree of gnarliness, other competitors have trouble sizing up.
“I had some good runs, but I just couldn’t get my final thing going,” said Colin Langlois of Mammoth Mountain, Calif., who ended up in 12th place. “There are a lot of people going for it. If they landed what they were doing, they just had insane runs.”As to the bar that White seems to raise time and time again, Langlois said it’s become habit for himself and the rest of the competition.”We kind of expect it,” he said. “We expect it from him now. If he doesn’t (steal the show), it’s more strange. It throws us off more. If he didn’t just light it up, we’d be like, ‘What’s wrong with the course?'”Sports Writer Shauna Farnell can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 610, or email@example.com.Vail, Colorado