Olympic boardercross not far away
COPPER MOUNTAIN – They probably didn’t know it, but the everyday ski crowd that made time on Thursday to check out the Winter Gravity Games boardercross races at Copper witnessed an Olympic preview.With a few exceptions, this was due less to the racers involved than to the event itself. Since gaining admission into the pinnacle of sport in February 2003, boardercross – the NASCAR of the winter action sports world, though not because of its image – has spread in popularity like a brush fire.
It is the only discipline in snowboarding that combines all the attractions – speed, air time, turning and head-to-head competition. Its racers wear body armor, with good reason. If you lose an edge here, any number of hard, sharp, fast-moving objects can hurt you.The Olympic designation is old news to those eyeing the inaugural gold medal that will be given away at Turin, Italy, in 2006. However, to others, like the half-confused, fully interested onlookers at the base of Copper on Thursday, boardercross is still a discovery to be made.Chances are, the winning Gravity riders those folks watched will play a role in the sport’s 2006 Olympic debut. Twenty-five-year-old men’s victor Xavier de le Rue of France, the 2003 world champion and this year’s Winter X Games gold medalist, is a popular pick to land on the podium in Turin if he rides to his potential.
He thinks boardercross has caught on due to its fun-to-watch, action-packed nature, and said he’s in it for, among other things, the mental challenge it presents.”When you’re riding neck and neck with someone else, you just can’t give in. It’s all up here,” he said, pointing to his skull.
For women’s winner Leslee Olson, 26, a boardercross competition four years ago nearly ended her life by thumping that same round sphere of bone. Olson, one of the original female snowboarders and the 2000 Winter X boardercross winner, landed hard while defending her crown in Vermont and cracked her head on the snow. She suffered a concussion, and briefly stopped breathing.Partly due to that terrifying event, she retired from snowboarding and went to school to become a nurse. Then boardercross got the Olympic nod, and she couldn’t resist a comeback – despite her horrific history in the event.U.S. Snowboard Team star Seth Wescott also competed on Thursday, but bowed out early due to injury. He won the world championship in January, then finished second to his good friend de le Rue in Aspen the following week. If Las Vegas bookies set odds on such a thing (and I’m betting they do), Wescott would likely be one of three favorites to win in Turin, along with his Frenchman rival and Canadian Drew Nielson. (On the women’s side, American teen phenom Lindsey Jacobellis and the sensational Karine Ruby of France lead the list of women’s hopefuls in ’06.)
Wescott, a former halfpipe rider who made the switch because he disliked that discipline’s subjectivity, has competed in boardercross since 1997, making him somewhat of an original. Now, not only is he looking forward to etching his own name in Olympic stone, he’s also hoping to help give skiers what he fought for all these years.”I would be almost surprised if we don’t see skiercross added (as an Olympic event) by 2010, especially if boardercross goes well,” said Wescott.With a pack of passionate riders behind it and the comprehensive manner in which it tests its athletes, it’s hard to believe boardercross won’t succeed on the Olympic stage.Vail, Colorado
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Jeff Shiffrin, with his wife, Eileen, made the Vail area their home decades ago, and together raised Mikaela and Taylor Shiffrin, who was a member of the two-time NCAA Champion University of Denver Ski Team.