Athletes still competing at X before Sochi
ASPEN, Colo. -- With the Sochi Games set to begin 11 days after X Games Aspen ends, and with ski and snowboard slopestyle and ski halfpipe set to debut at the Olympics, dozens of freeskiers and snowboarders faced a new and pressing question this month.
Is it worth skipping the X Games to save oneself for the Olympics?
The answer depends on whom you ask. Two of the world's most accomplished snowboarders -- defending halfpipe gold medalists Torah Bright and Shaun White, both of whom are adding disciplines to their Olympic schedules this year -- withdrew from the X Games on Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively, citing the need to rest and train before Sochi. Otherwise, most of the athletes expected to contend for Olympic medals are competing this week in Aspen.
Never mind the nagging injuries that got exposed during the chaotic Olympic qualifying period. And never mind the risk of fresh injury that comes with competing in the X Games. In the end, athletes said, it came down to having one more opportunity to tune up before Sochi and paying homage to an event that brought their events to the fore in the first place.
"It makes sense to me if somebody would want to [skip Aspen], if they had their Olympic spot locked in and they just wanted to save their body for the Olympics," said David Wise, the two-time defending X Games Aspen Ski SuperPipe gold medalist. "But for me, I think the more high-caliber events you have under your belt going into the biggest event of your life, the better."
Jamie Anderson, the favorite to win women's snowboard slopestyle gold in Aspen and Sochi, concurred. "X Games always builds one of the best courses of the year, and I really have fun on that mountain," she said. "So it's good for my focus but also really good for my riding."
Other athletes cited the fact that their sports were contested and supported here long before the International Olympic Committee added them to the 2014 docket. "The X Games have been the Olympics of our sport," slopestyle skier and U.S. Olympian Bobby Brown said. "That's what our sport has been based around, and I want to keep it that way."
French halfpipe skier Kevin Rolland, a two-time X Games champion, echoed Brown. "It's really important to do X Games because that's why we are in the Olympics," he said. "Our sport was made by the X Games, so to me it's really important to continue to promote the X Games and to give a good show."
Nevertheless, the risk of injury is real, especially on courses that could be larger than those the athletes will see in Russia. Yet as U.S. slopestyle snowboarder Sage Kotsenburg said: "We do what we do and we love what we do, and freak accidents happen all the time. I could be carving and catch my edge and break my face or something."
"X Games can't be that much different from our training camps that we'll be doing," added first-time Olympian Kaitlyn Farrington, who will compete in Snowboard SuperPipe this week.
Ultimately, in a pair of sports where staying core counts, athletes don't take their roots lightly.
"The Olympics came to us and said, 'Hey, we want you in.' And we sort of said, 'All right, you've got to meet us on our own terms,' " Wise said. "That goes for sponsors, too. They had to approach us where we were and say, 'Hey, we want to support you and we'll take you how you come.' And for us, it's like, well, we come with X Games."