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X Does Not Mark the Spot

With Turin Olympics less than two weeks away, some top competitors have decided to sit out the X Games.

January 29, 2006|Pete Thomas | Times Staff Writer

ASPEN, Colo. — This is not the kind of Olympic fever to boast about, especially if you're host of the Winter X Games, running the Winter X Games or were among the thousands of fans attending the Winter X Games on Saturday.

It seemed a sign of things to come during Friday's practice rounds when Andy Finch severely bruised his foot in the halfpipe and Lindsey Jacobellis jammed her knee on the snowboard-cross course.

Finch was clearly hobbled but Jacobellis probably would have continued if the Olympics at Turin, Italy, weren't being held less than two weeks later. Both pulled out of the X Games.

Media were informed Saturday morning that Gretchen Bleiler and Hannah Teter, though present, would not compete in the X Games. Both cited weariness stemming from the two-month, five-stop U.S. Snowboard Grand Prix Series, which determined who made the U.S. halfpipe team.

"I have always dreamed of being an Olympian and after a lot of hard work that dream has become a reality for me," Bleiler stated. "It has been a tough couple of weeks with the Olympic qualifiers and, as much as I love the X Games and riding in my hometown of Aspen, I want to be sure that I am 100% going into Torino."

Bleiler, 24, won the X Games gold medal last year. She and Teter finished Nos. 1-2 in Olympic qualifying and are expected to contend for the halfpipe gold at the Turin Games. Teter, 19, won the X Games gold in 2004.

Fortunately for organizers, the affliction hadn't spread throughout the X Games compound on Buttermilk Mountain.

Shaun White, fresh from winning his fourth consecutive X Games gold in the slopestyle competition, wondered what all the fuss was about.

"The chicks are stressing me out," said White, 19, who is among the favorites to win gold in the halfpipe event at the Turin Games. "Serious! They got my family all crazy. They're going, 'What are you doing?' All these chicks are pulling out. Think about what you're doing."

White's response: "I've been riding since I was like 6 years old. This is what I love to do. You know? I'm not going to stress about not competing. The only way I wouldn't compete is if it wasn't safe conditions."

ESPN said publicly that it supported the decisions made by Bleiler and Teter.

"We wish them the best of luck at the Olympics," spokeswoman Melissa Gullotti said. "Those are a couple of athletes and there are over 230 athletes competing here from around the world in four different sports and 11 different disciplines. And we're focusing on making this the best event ever."

Saturday was a fair first day of finals in that regard. Janna Meyen also pulled off a four-peat in slopestyle -- an event played out on a downhill course with rails and jumps -- and afterward dedicated her triumph to her ailing grandmother.

Kelly Clark, 22, the 2002 Olympic gold medalist, won the halfpipe final under the lights in a snowstorm with an electrifying performance despite an arm injury that limited her range of motion.

Then there was Nate Holland, 27, one of four U.S. men headed to Turin to compete in the new Olympic sport of snowboard cross, with a dramatic X Games triumph over Canada's Marco Huser and U.S. teammates Jayson Hale and Seth Wescott.

Afterward, Holland proclaimed himself ready to romp in Bardonecchia, site of the snowboard competitions. "I'm just fired up to have a gold medal right now," he said of the X Games version draped around his neck.

Now that's the kind of Olympic fever to boast about.

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