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Athletes: Let the X Games Begin!

Elise Thatcher

  The X Games have officially begun, with the Women’s Ski SuperPipe Final Wednesday night at Buttermilk. When it comes to new events, there will be a Special Olympics giant slalom race, as well as a gaming center where people attending the event can compete for prizes and their own X Games Medals. This weekend will also have a wider array of events for disabled athletes than in the past. Overall at least three Aspen-area hometown favorites will be gunning for gold. Aspen Public Radio’s Elise Thatcher was at a press conference with the athletes yesterday, and files this report.

Editor's note: below is a transcript of reporter Elise Thatcher's story.

Reporter: The unofficial star of the press conference was Californian Chloe Kim. Last year, at thirteen, she was the youngest athlete ever to win an X Games medal. This weekend she's ready to snag another silver, or better.

Chloe Kim: "I mean all of this is kind of overwhelming, cause I'm just so new to it and don't know what's going on. So, it's cool."

Reporter. Kim will be competing in Snowboard SuperPipe. She describes her main competitor this way.

Kim: "I love Kelly, like she doesn't scare me. Kelly’s not scary at all, she’s awesome."

Reporter: That’s snowboarder Kelly Clark, the most decorated female in X Games history.

The more official star yesterday was long time competitor and one time wonder boy Shaun White. He had a disappointing finish at the Olympics last year. A reporter asked yesterday, with a noisy heater in the background, if White considers himself a favorite.

Shaun White: "Um... I don't know, I mean I always carry an expectation in my mind at any event. So that's never changed. I show up, I want to do the best I can. Obviously do well at this event."

Reporter: White has never lost at the X Games. He bailed on the event last year to prepare for the Sochi Olympics... where things went badly. In recent years he’s been trying to remain relevant in an the increasingly daring and challenging sport.

This year the X Games has a wider array of “adaptive” events, where competitors with disabilities compete at a high level. Longtime athlete Mike Schultz is competing in Snowboarder X Adaptive. Like the able bodied version, he'll be in a field of competitors flying downhill at the same time, jockeying for the finish.

Mike Schultz: “It gets kind of scary sometimes, when I come in too hot into a corner or into a feature, and just a couple of weeks ago at the World Cup, here at Snowmass, in training and coming through this S corner and over a roller and I got a little off balance and I caught my heel edge at full speed."

Reporter: The Minnesota resident describes what that moment was like... with a specially engineered prosthetic leg.

Schultz: "If I had my regular legs, I could have unloaded my lead foot and take the edge up and just slide out of it, but I'm kind of along for the ride sometimes, so, that's the biggest challenge of it."

Reporter: This is the first year adaptive Snowboarder X will have medals, after being a demonstration event before. Schultz will also compete in Snowmobile SnoCross Adaptive. The third adaptive event is Mono Skier X. The competitors are amputees, have spinal cord injuries, or are visually impaired. Mono Skier X returns after several years away.

Some athletes made a tough choice to compete in this year’s games. The International Ski Federation Freestyle Ski and Snowboard World Championships in Austria are also this weekend. The tough decision was most acute for freestyle David Wise.

David Wise: "It was an interesting place for me to be in his year, being not only the defending champion world champion but also the defending X Games champion."

Reporter: The Reno athlete wrote about the conundrum in a lengthy blog post.

David Wise: "So when it really came down to it we had to made the decision as athletes, what's more important to us. And I can honestly say that our sport is where it is today because of the X Games... Nobody would even know what ski halfpipe was if there wasn't an X Games, because it puts us in front of the masses."

Reporter: An event not in the Games’ line-up this year is Snowmobile Freestyle. Athlete Caleb Moore crashed and later died in that event two years ago. His brother, Colten Moore, won gold last year. In its place, the X Games will this weekend feature Snowmobile Speed & Style, a combination freestyle and racing competition.

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