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Winter X Games

Olympic spots could require more work

January 25, 2008|Pete Thomas | Times Staff Writer

ASPEN, Colo. -- The X Games snowboard superpipe finals are tonight and Sunday, but a lot of talk this week has centered on the 2010 Winter Olympics.

Grumbling is a more apt description.

Rumors are swirling around Buttermilk Mountain regarding probable changes to the Olympic qualifying process, to begin next winter.

U.S. halfpipe specialists, who've enjoyed relative autonomy from World Cup competition, may be asked by Olympic team coaches to increase participation.

The U.S. snowboard team, which includes snowboardcross and parallel giant slalom athletes, probably will be required -- along with other nations -- to maintain an unspecified cumulative World Cup points total to be ensured of earning the maximum number of roster slots for the Vancouver Games.

That's expected to be 18, up two from the 2006 Turin Games.

The U.S. has many of the world's top halfpipe riders, so even modest participation would greatly help the team earn those spots.

For the Turin Games, halfpipe riders needed only one top-25 World Cup finish to become eligible. U.S. riders then had to qualify for the national team via the Grand Prix circuit.

They'll still have to qualify via the Grand Prix tour in 2009-10. None will be mandated to compete in more World Cup events than necessary for individual Olympic eligibility.

FIS, skiing's world governing body, is expected to outline specifics in May. But the United States Snowboarding Assn., according to spokesman Tom Kelly, is anticipating the above scenario.

Torah Bright, who tonight will attempt to defend her X Games superpipe championship, has been told of a similar situation pertaining to Australian athletes.

Steve Fisher, who on Sunday will try to repeat as men's X Games superpipe champion, said he's "cool with a few more" World Cup events "here and there." But he was under the impression it would be strictly for individual points.

Shaun White, 21, who won the halfpipe gold at Turin, was not aware of a specific scenario, but when presented with one he said, "I'm not sure I'm willing to help out."

White, who this week signed a lucrative 10-year contract extension with Burton, which involves expansion of the clothing line he helps design, cited an already overwhelming schedule and sponsor obligations.

"I'd have to think about it," he said. "I think I'm going to try to do my year as it goes and obviously fulfill my obligations to get into the Olympics. But for now I'm going to try not to think about it."

Today and Sunday, that'll be a popular sentiment.

Freeskiing at Sochi Games?

So far the Winter Games executives have nabbed snowboard halfpipe and snowboardcross; and ski cross will make its debut at the Vancouver Games.

What X Games discipline will the Olympics pick up for Sochi, Russia, in 2014? Will it be A) skiing halfpipe; B) snowboard slopestyle; or C) none of the above.

Answer: Too early to tell, but the skiers think they're deserving based on freeskiing's recent surge and burgeoning sales of smaller twin-tip skis made for pipes and parks.

The men showcased their talents Thursday night, with Tanner Hall spinning his way to an X Games-record seven gold medals and his third consecutive win in the event.

The women will take center stage tonight and Kristi Leskinen said the sport is "all but guaranteed" to be in the Olympics in 2014.

"We go bigger and it's more exciting" than snowboarding superpipe, Leskinen added. "And it's easier to tell if we land forward or switch, so it's easier to understand."

Good points, but snowboarding has more competitions and mass appeal from a fan standpoint, so don't count out slopestyle just yet.

Gretchen gossip

Gretchen Bleiler, Olympic silver medalist and hometown favorite for tonight's snowboard superpipe final, may soon become engaged to surfer boyfriend Chris Hotell.

Hotell works in marketing for Oakley, which is Bleiler's primary sponsor.

The two recently bought a house in Carlsbad and when asked if that represents an unofficial engagement, Bleiler did not say no.

"Obviously we're committed, but we're not in a huge rush," she confessed.

"But it's definitely in the future."

Stylish, and speedy

Snowmobile speed and style, a blend of racing and freestyle riding in side-by-side, head-to-head competition, made a successful debut Thursday night.

There were only two crashes and no serious injuries. Chris Burandt, who conceptualized the discipline and was among the medal favorites, was among the crash victims and did not advance beyond the first round.

Levi LaVallee of Longville, Minn., prevailed in the final and afterward said that the sport is "nerve-racking" but a blast, and predicted it will become more popular once more riders develop an interest.

There were only eight in Thursday's lineup.

Results

Men's ski super pipe final: 1. Tanner Hall, 92.33 points. 2. Simon Dumont, 91.00. 3. Colby West, 85.00.

Men's snowmobile speed and style final: 1. Levi LaVallee. 2. Sam Rogers. 3. Joe Parsons.

--

pete.thomas@latimes.com

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