From Aspen to Sochi
ASPEN, Colo. -- In sports, like in life, one sometimes has to endure loss to experience magic. We saw that Thursday night in Colten Moore, who returned to X Games Aspen to honor his late brother Caleb's go-for-it spirit -- and electrified viewers with a stunning victory in Snowmobile Freestyle. Anyone with a sibling, a child or a best friend could imagine what that moment was like for Moore and his family, if not fully understand it.
The lesson was clear: You might have to be defeated before you can triumph. Ask snowboarder Danny Davis, who won his first gold medal in six X Games appearances Sunday night, four years after a broken back and shattered pelvis derailed his career.
Everyone who left Aspen without a gold medal before flying to Sochi, Russia, for the upcoming Winter Olympic Games hopes this adage proves true for them, too. Especially the favorites who were upset here: two-time defending Snowboard Slopestyle champs Mark McMorris and Jamie Anderson, who fell agonizingly short Saturday afternoon and will seek redemption in two weeks. (McMorris will proceed to Sochi under a particularly intense Olympic media microscope thanks to the broken rib he suffered on his final run.)
The five days of competition at Buttermilk Mountain taught us plenty about what to expect in Russia. David Wise, Nick Goepper, Maddie Bowman and Kaya Turski proved once more why they are the ones to beat when freeskiing struts onto the sport's biggest stage next month.
Same goes for Kelly Clark, the greatest female halfpipe snowboarder in history, who cemented an X Games Aspen four-peat, held off the next Kelly Clark and won the 70th contest of her career. No woman has earned more X Games medals than Clark's 12.
We don't know when Clark will cede her throne, but we can safely say that whenever she does, a bubbly little dimpled rocketship named Chloe Kim will be her successor. Kim, 13, became the youngest winter X medalist in history by claiming silver, less than one point behind Clark, 31.
In the same contest, one of the defining action sports stars of the past decade, Aspen local and four-time X Games champion Gretchen Bleiler, bid her backyard contest adieu with the same glowing grin that announced her arrival in 1999. "Thank you for always cheering me on," Bleiler told the crowd after the final competition run of her career.
Shaun White elected to skip the X Games and concede his shot at a seventh consecutive Snowboard SuperPipe gold medal, leaving Snowmobile SnoCross maestro Tucker Hibbert to earn the first seven-peat in winter XG history. Hibbert gave the competition hope by winning by only 14 seconds. Not bad for a guy who lacerated his kidney in a crash two years ago, putting his career in doubt.
The king and queen of the Snowboarder X course, Nate Holland and Lindsey Jacobellis, are hoping their victories in Aspen this week -- the eighth for Jacobellis and seventh for Holland -- will give them enough momentum to (finally) win Olympic gold. There may not be two more motivated athletes in Sochi.
One of the most dubious streaks on record fell prey to a near-flawless performance Sunday. Nine skiers had won Aspen Ski Slopestyle gold in the past nine years until Goepper, a Hoosier from the tiny farm town of Lawrenceburg, Ind., defended his 2013 title by landing the second triple cork thrown in a ski slopestyle contest (just moments after Gus Kenworthy landed the first).
In doing so, Goepper inched ever closer to the ultimate prize: slopestyle's inaugural Olympic gold medal. To win there, too, he will have to get past a deep field of challengers including the dreadlocked, infectious Swede Henrik Harlaut, who defended his Ski Big Air title Saturday night with the same heartstopping trick that clinched gold last year, the nose butter triple cork 1620.
Harlaut's mastery of the nose butter tricks, much like the backside triple cork 1620s that debuted in Snowboard Big Air and helped Max Parrot win the first of his two gold medals (he also won Snowboard Slopestyle), brought to mind something Per Grimsrud said earlier in the week. Grimsrud, who coaches the famously innovative Norwegian snowboard slopestyle team, described a sensation that many surely feel each year here in Aspen.
"Sometimes you get blinded," Grimsrud said at the base of the Big Air jump. "You see all these tricks every day with these guys. I have to pinch my arm to know it's real."
It won't be the last time this year for Grimsrud, or the rest of the world, for that matter. From Aspen, the train chugs to Russia with Olympic history on the line. And everyone, whether they leave Colorado wearing or champing for gold, can learn from Colten Moore.
On the kind of Rocky Mountain night that left your hands and feet numb, Moore muted the cold and warmed the souls of strangers. He made grown men cry -- lots of them. He showed everyone that you must accept your circumstances, no matter what they are. You must stand tall and move forward.