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Mike, you’re right: The ESPN Winter X Games do provide a breath of fresh air in the suffocating and exclusive world of sanctioned ski competition. And the Olympics have become more about money than anything else, though that’s also the case with ESPN’s Gen X cash cow.
So let’s get to the heart of the matter: In terms of promoting the highest level of sport, there’s just no comparing the X Games to the Olympics.Congratulations on securing Aspen-with its five-decade history of hosting world-class ski races-as the venue for the 2002 X Games. Oh, I just noticed that most of the events will be held at Buttermilk, Aspen’s “beginner” ski area. It should be a challenging venue for “some of the world’s best athletes.”
Let’s talk about the athletes. Since your X Games record book only goes back to 1997, I’ll skip over Olympic legends such as Oreiller, Sailer, Killy and the Mahres. How about Hermann Maier picking himself up from that high-flying fall at Nagano in 1998 and then coming back to win the grueling, demanding super G and giant slalom? Do you realize how hard and long Maier trained for that moment?
That same winter in Crested Butte, the exciting new sport of SkierX debuted in the Winter X Games. It took place on a bunny slope on a course designed by a snowboarder. Speeds often weren’t in excess of 20 mph, though there was a section called the Hole Shot that managed to cripple about a quarter of the field. Talk about the best interests of the athletes! Meanwhile, the BoarderX event was won by the extremely talented Shaun Palmer, who admitted he’d practiced a total of two days before his win. Hey, at least the parties rocked!
Two seasons later at Mt. Snow, Vt., SkierX had “evolved” (your word) to the point where Palmer-a good athlete with fast skis-took out the entire field simply by getting an incredible jump out of the starting gate. Now that’s competition.
Then there’s TV. It’s an outrage that NBC won’t cover 2002 Olympic skiing events live, but will delay them to the evening. In the case of the X Games, the events are Jan. 17-20, though the coverage will be shown two weeks later. Wake me when it starts.