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Mon January 27, 2014
X Games Show The Olympics What The Kids Want
Originally published on Wed January 29, 2014 1:17 pm
Nick Goepper is headed off to the Olympics in a couple of days, but he's not taking it easy: He spent the weekend hurtling through the air on ESPN at the X Games.
The sport is slopestyle. If you've watched any extreme skiing on television, you'll know it well: Skiers hit rails and walls and massive jumps; they seem to spend more time in the air than on the snow.
It's old hat for kids, but brand new for the Olympics. Sochi is the debut of slopestyle as an Olympic sport, proving once again that where the X Games go, the Olympics will follow.
The X Games are so popular that even first-time Olympians like Goepper risk injury for a chance to perform for the crowds in Aspen, home of the games.
"This is one of best training tools to use right before the Olympics, 'cause I mean, you're going to see a lot of the same runs, a lot of the same styles that are going to happen at the Olympics," Goepper says. "It's kind of a good test event."
And it's the new model for how winter sports are done. The Olympics learned long ago that the X Games tap into something primal inside the teenage mind.
One of the spectators at this weekend's games, Lorenzo Semple, brought his son out to see the twists and flips.
"Kids are like the Terminator when they're looking for terrain features and jumps," Semple says. "Anything basically to upset their parents, and this is just kind of like an extension of that on a much grander scale."
The X Games made snowboarding famous. It's the reason half-pipe and boardercross became popular enough to make it to the Olympics. Now slopestyle is about to move into the Olympic spotlight.
Tim Reed, senior director of events for ESPN, has no problem with the imitation.
"It kind of shows that we're kind of pushing progression and doing things that, you know, kids and youth lifestyle are into," he says.
But when a youth-lifestyle, punk-rock sport makes it to the Olympics, some things inevitably change, as slopestyle skier and now aspiring Olympic medalist Gus Kenworthy noticed.
"I definitely think that there are people that kind of even resent the Olympics because they think that it's changing the sport," Kenworthy says. "The sport originally started because we didn't want rules. We wanted it to be free and have all this freedom and be unique and creative and individualized. And I think that yeah, the Olympics does take some of that out of the equation."
Kenworthy says there were debates about who should run the sport and who makes the rules. But in the end he's excited for the Olympics and what it can do for his sport; just look at what the exposure did for snowboarding.
"Since then it's really pushed the athletes," Kenworthy says. "I mean you've had snowboarders on Dancing With the Stars; just the opportunity to kind of grow and be something more than just a skier or snowboarder."
The X Games have not just provided new sports to the Olympics, but also a change in atmosphere. The DJ who blares the rock music under every run for the X Games has been hired to play the same soundtrack for the games in Sochi. Some of the announcers and the technical crews also have their tickets booked for Russia.
The Olympics wants those young viewers that the X Games have energized, but it's drawn the line at the raw commercialism you see at the X Games. Semple says it gets on his nerves.
"You can see the priority is to get on TV," Semple says. "To hold up your skis, to show your sponsor, to hold the Monster Energy Drink can up in front of the camera."
In the case of X Games champion Nick Goepper, it's actually a Red Bull — the name is emblazoned on his helmet, but he's going to have to take it off for the much stricter Olympics. He says it's kind of hard to abide by all the guidelines, because that's how he makes a living. But the payoff will come when the whole world sees him pull out those X Games moves in Sochi.
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Audie Cornish.
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
And I'm Robert Siegel.
The X Games just wrapped up in Colorado, a weekend of extreme winter sports action - flying snowboarders, upside-down skiers. And now, some of those athletes are trading in their baggy pants and T-shirts for an Olympic uniform.
NPR's Robert Smith reports on how the X Games, more than ever, are changing what we'll see in Sochi for the Winter Games.
ROBERT SMITH, BYLINE: I don't know about you, but if I were about to compete in the Olympics, I would rest up a little. I certainly wouldn't spend the days before hurtling through the air on ESPN.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: He's a master on the rails. His jumps are solid. He's got a triple on the bottom we've seen.
SMITH: We're watching Nick Goepper ski down a sort of obstacle course in the snow. It's called slopestyle and it's the newest Olympic sport. But the X Games, they've been doing it for more than a decade. Goepper says he wasn't going to miss it.
NICK GOEPPER: This is one of best training tools that I use right before the Olympics. Because, I mean, you're going to see a lot of the same runs, a lot same styles that are going to happen at the Olympics. So it's kind of a good test event.
SMITH: The X Games is a competition designed and hyped by ESPN, beloved by teenagers and the sponsors who want to sell things to teenagers. Let's take that sport I just mentioned, slopestyle. It's basically the ski hill as re-imagined by a 12-year-old - all rails and jumps - the skier or snowboarder races down spending about half the time upside down or going backwards.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Oh, so far so good. Will he finish it with a triple? One, two and he's done it...
SMITH: On of the spectator, Lorenzo Semple, brought his kid out to see slopestyle at the X Games and says it is built for something inside the teenage mind.
LORENZO SEMPLE: Kids are like the Terminator when they are looking for terrain features and jumps. Anything basically to upset their parents. And this is just kind of like an extension of that on a much grander scale.
SMITH: Here's how I imagine it all goes down. One kid gets on a ski slope and tries something new - that kid breaks his leg. But the next kid pulls it off, maybe with a 360 and that kid is a hero. Then, years later, the sport they invent is at the X Games. And a years after that, the Olympics say: Hey, what is this new thing?
It happened with snowboarding. It happened with half pipe, now with slopestyle.
Tim Reed is the senior director of events for ESPN. And he has no problem with the Olympics imitating them.
TIM REED: It's a goal every year to...
SMITH: To what- make the Olympics pick up your sports?
REED: No. No. No...
REED: It's - well, it's nice when they do. It's, you know, kind of shows we're kind of pushing progression and doing things that, you know, kids and youth lifestyle youth lifestyle are into.
SMITH: But when a youth-lifestyle, punk-rock sport makes it to the Olympics some things inevitably change. Gus Kenworthy is a slopestyle skier.
GUS KENWORTHY: I definitely think that there are people that kind of even resent the Olympics because they think that it's changing the sport. The sport originally started because we didn't want rules. We wanted it to be free and have all this freedom, and be unique and creative and individualized. And I think that, yeah, the Olympics does take some of that out of the equation.
SMITH: Kenworthy says there were debates about who should run the sport and who makes the rules. But in the end, Kenworthy is excited for the Olympics and what it can do for his sport. Just look at what the exposure did for snowboarding.
KENWORTHY: Since then its really pushed the athletes. I mean, you've had snowboarders on "Dancing With The Stars," just the opportunity to kind of grow and be something more than just a skier or a snowboarder.
SMITH: The Olympics have adopted more than just sports from the X Games. They have learned from the whole X Games atmosphere. The DJ for the X Games blaring the rock music under every run...
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: (Singing) Feeling nice...
SMITH: ...he's been hired by Sochi to play the same soundtrack for the Olympics. Some of the announcers and the technical crews already have their tickets booked for Russia.
The Olpymics wants those young viewers that the X Games have energized. But it has drawn the line at the raw commercialism you see here in Aspen.
Spectator Lorenzo Semple says it does get on his nerves.
SEMPLE: You can see the priority is to get on TV, to hold up your skis, to show your sponsor, to hold the Monster energy drink can up in front of the camera.
SMITH: In the case of X Games champion Nick Goepper, it's actually a Red Bull. The name is emblazoned on his helmet. But he's going to have to take it off when he heads to the Olympics later on this week.
GOEPPER: It's kind of hard to, like, abide by all the guidelines. But...
SMITH: Because that's how you make your living.
GOEPPER: Yeah, exactly.
SMITH: But the hope is that the payoff comes when the whole world starts talking about your crazy new slopestyle sport.
Robert Smith, NPR News.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.