Eliassen wins first-ever women’s superpipe gold
ASPEN – For five years, women freeskiers Sarah Burke and Kristi Leskinen have traveled with the men, forerun events and pushed competition promoters to let them have their chance.On Tuesday, the final day of Winter X Games Nine, they got it.And while Burke finished second and Leskinen won the bronze, 18-year-old Grete Eliassen of Norway won the first women’s superpipe gold medal ever at the X Games.After the 30 minute jam session – a common halfpipe format where the athletes do as many runs as possible, and are judged on the best overall run – Burke looked relieved.”Kristi and I have been here since Day 1,” said the 22-year-old Canadian, who competed last year during the demonstration event. “We’ve lived together. We’ve traveled together. And now, we were together on the podium.”Burke’s incessant motivation is rooted in her competitiveness. In 2003, she won every event but one before tearing her ACL in the U.S. Open big air competition, where she was the only female competitor.But this week, Burke couldn’t pull off her planned combination of a corked 5 to a 900. She did stomp the 900 (on the last hit of her final run), but the judges penalized her for starting with straight airs and a shaky 540.Eliassen, meanwhile, linked back-to-back perfect 540s at the top of her run and ended with a clean big air.”During the next five years, this thing is going to be huge,” Eliassen said. “There’s going to be opportunities for more girls to be involved. We want to be televised. We want to be under the lights next year.”The sport’s progression – and the growing popularity of alternative sports – have pushed the likes of Burke and Leskinen. During last year’s demonstration, most of the competitors were hitting straight airs and avoiding risky spins.This year, every athlete landed at least one 540 during the competition, and Copper Mountain rider Jamie Sundberg clued the crowd into the next evolution of women’s skiing. Sundberg, who finished eighth, threw a huge inverted spin on her last hit. She fell on the landing, hit her head and was helped down the pipe.”I’m a warrior,” the Vail resident said. “It’s been a rough week. I’ve dislocated my shoulder twice in the last three days. But my shoulder stayed in today. I did see some butterflies, and I felt like I was floating.”Most of the women in Tuesday’s competition have more formal freestyle training. Leskinen converted to freeskiing from freestyle moguls, an event she called “boring,” before she and Burke began campaigning for the sport.Connecticut native Jen Hudak, one of the crowd favorites, said the division between USSA, FIS and events like the Gravity Games and X Games has hurt the momentum Burke and Leskinen are building.”We need to think about merging, because we need a more organized feeder program into these events,” Hudak said. “We’re confident we can have a good show, and the interest will only grow now that we get medals and money.”Eliassen, who grew up in St. Louis Park, Minn., will return today to Norway where her parents moved three years ago. After making history thousands of miles from home, she’ll continue her final semester of high school on Thursday. She plans on attending the University of Utah next year.”Grete is amazing,” Burke said. “It would have meant a lot for me to win, but she’s the best skier out here. Hopefully, she can help us keep this going, and we’ll see a lot more girls in the pipe.”
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