The Olympics won't replace the X Games, they'll just add to our sport. —Lyman Currier
Decked out in newly issued Olympic gear, slopestyle skier Gus Kenworthy looked confused when asked if he still planned to compete at the Winter X Games now that he’d secured his spot on the first-ever U.S. Olympic freeskiing team.
“Yeah, I plan on competing in all three disciplines,” said Kenworthy, who landed the first triple flip (a switch triple rodeo 1,440) in competition Sunday just a week after qualifying for the U.S. Olympic slopestyle team. “I don’t think too much is changing because of the Olympics for most of the X Games competitors. ... For me it’s almost as important as the Olympics. ... It’s our pinnacle event.”
However, while most of the action sports athletes who have the opportunity to compete in Olympic events share Kenworthy’s commitment to the X Games, the reality is that the lure of the Olympics could change that.
In fact, some of the changes have already begun.
Two of the most high-profile snowboarders chose to sit out this X Games competition in Aspen, Colo., a decision that looked particularly wise after two other Canadian Olympians were hurt.
Canada’s Megan Gunning injured her knee on Thursday while trying to qualify for the X Games and had to give up her Olympic spot on the first-ever freeskiing team to mogul skier Philippe Marquis.
And on Saturday, Canadian slopestyle snowboarder Mark McMorris, a medal favorite, broke a rip after he slipped on a rail trick. He will try to compete at the Sochi Games despite the injury.
“Thank you to everyone for your concern,” McMorris told The Associated Press. “After thorough discussions with my team of doctors and a number of medical specialists, and my physical therapist and coaches, I will continue as planned with traveling to Europe (Sunday) and recovering for the Olympics. While I’m sore, I’m continuing on my road to Sochi.”
Injuries are always a risk and often come in training. But both of the Olympic champions in snowboard half-pipe opted to skip the X Games in hopes of accomplishing something special in Sochi.
Two-time Olympic snowboard half-pipe gold medalist Shaun White waffled a bit before finally deciding to skip the X Games in Aspen this weekend. It’s the first time the 27-year-old has missed since 2000 — when he was first invited to compete at age 13.
Also, the 2010 Olympic women’s half-pipe gold medalist Torah Bright opted to miss this year’s X Games. The Australian will be the first snowboarder to compete in three disciplines — half-pipe, slopestyle and snowboard cross. White will compete for the U.S. in both half-pipe and slopestyle.
Maybe it’s because White and Bright have been to the Olympics, and they understand just what they’d be missing if they couldn’t compete in the games.
On the other hand, four-time Olympian Kelly Clark, owner of a gold and bronze Olympic medal, competed and won gold in the X Games half-pipe competition.
Most of the competitors acknowledge that without the X Games or Dew Tour, their sports likely wouldn't have gained enough popularity to even be considered for the Olympics.
"The Olympics won't replace the X Games, they'll just add to our sport," said Lyman Currier, who qualified for the U.S. Olympic ski half-pipe team in Park City two weeks ago.
Snowboarding and freeskiing aren’t just unusual because of their beginning and evolution. They’re unusual because they’ve never completely come under the official umbrella of organizations like FIS or the U.S. Ski and Snowboarding Association.
And that’s exactly the way most of them like it. In fact, most say that the reason snowboarding and freeskiing may never conform to the normal World Cup competition that rules other sports is that an integral part of these sports is the creative and collaborative aspects.
“It’s a credit to the sport that it’s harbored that kind of collaborative attitude,” said David Currier, who competed in the 1972 Olympics in Alpine and is the father of freeskiier Lyman Currier. “I think there are positives and negatives to anything. The negatives are that it would get too structured and lose its soul. When I see these athletes, how they interact, I’m not worried about how the sport will proceed.”
Some of the athletes say the show they put on for the fans is as important as any competitive prize.
Freeskiers David Wise (half-pipe) and Bobby Brown (slopestyle) both chose to compete in the U.S. Grand Prix competitions in Park City even after they’d secured their spots on the Olympic team.
“Freeskiers just have a different mentality about life,” said Wise, who won gold in the X Games ski half-pipe this weekend. "Our whole life has been about taking risk, conquering fear and doing things that may not seem possible.”
To chose not to compete for fear of injury, he said, would be to change the way most in the sport have always thought.
But there is another reason that action sports athletes choose to compete, even when they don’t need to — because it was the X Games that put their sports on the map.
“The X Games has as much respect as the Olympics for us,” he said. “It’s really made our sport what it is.”