Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Extreme sports dudes now life of Games

The helicopter jumps in freestyle skiing moguls lit up the first two days of competition before Seth Wescott gave us one of the great Olympic comebacks in the snowboard cross final. The American, clad in what seemed at first to be faded blue jeans, hauled back his rivals in a compelling final charge. "Awesome," he said in summing up his achievement, before revealing he did the time trial section while listening to Celtic punk rockers Dropkick Murphys on his iPod. With the weather wreaking havoc in Alpine skiing -- just one medal event has been completed as of Tuesday -- the X Games sports have held the spotlight like never before. "I said even back in Turin that snowboarding was becoming the heart and soul of the Olympics," Wescott told Reuters in an interview on Tuesday, shortly before Canada's Maelle Ricker thrilled the crowd again by winning the women's snowboard cross. "To me it was so validating to come to the opening ceremony and have the entire intro to the Vancouver Games be two minutes of a snowboarder going free-riding in the back country." Wescott was the first man to win gold at snowboard cross in Turin in 2006 and he plans to go for a third title in Sochi in 2014. His performance this week made the men's downhill, where skiers go down one by one against the clock, appear tame. "What I think snowboard cross does is bring an easily appreciable way for people to be able to watch the sport," Wescott said at an event organized by his sponsor Visa. "They can understand completely the head-to-head aspect of the racing and not necessarily have to be versed in the intricacies of the freestyle part of it." SHARPER IMAGE The focus on snowboarding will be sharper still in the halfpipe on Wednesday. Shaun White, also a champion in 2006, is the joint highest earning athlete at these Games, with the exception of some of the NHL ice hockey players, and when the American performs his new Double McTwist trick it will be an occasion indeed. The rise of extreme sports has been giddying. Freestyle skiing has only held medal status since 1992 and snowboarding did not make its debut until 1998. Snowboarders and freestylers were not always made welcome at ski resorts concerned about the perceived lifestyle of some of the competitors and the Ross Rebagliati case in 1998 hardly helped their image. Rebagliati tested positive for marijuana after winning snowboarding gold in 1998 and was originally told he would be stripped of his medal, although he was eventually reinstated. Nothing could stop the rise in the sports' popularity among key demographics for advertisers, however. Head-to-head races in snowboard and blaring pop music at the moguls have provided great television pictures, even if rain has washed away thousands of spaces for spectators. "During the span of my career we've seen the X Games emerging and we've gone from being outcasts at ski areas to where I come home and people of all ages are fired up about the race they just saw," Wescott said. "It's pretty amazing how just in these last 15 years we've gained a social acceptance with action sports and people really appreciate them for the talent they have now."



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