The ‘Phil Mickelson’ of superpipe
ASPEN ” Steve Fisher really likes Shaun White. Said he respects “everything” the most the famous snowboarder in world does.
What the 25-year-old Breckenridge local doesn’t get is why the media wants to script him in the role of the Flying Tomato’s foil. Or, as Fisher puts it, the Phil Mickelson to snowboarding’s Tiger Woods.
Thing is, everybody loves a good rivalry, especially when the roles of underdog and favorite seem so easily defined. They love it when the unassuming Midwestern kid, the one who grew up riding a halfpipe built on top of a Minnesota garbage dump, knocks out the California-raised child prodigy turned snowboarding icon.
Especially in a fair fight. On the biggest stage. With everyone watching.
While Fisher doesn’t like the fact that the media has tried to turn him into White’s archnemesis, he certainly understands it. Such things happen when you’ve won the biggest halfpipe contest two times in the last four years – the last coming by way of a 92-point run last January that Senor Blanco himself had three chances to best, only to look unusually human in coming up short.
Fisher won his first Winter X Games superpipe gold in 2004, a life-altering victory that arguably came with an asterisk, considering White was noticeably absent. Last year’s victory, if anything, proved that the first win was no fluke.
There were certainly those who thought as much. Fisher finished dead last in his return to Buttermilk in 2005 and was 13th in 2006, the year White won every single contest he entered, including the Olympic pipe final in Turin.
Fisher said last year’s win was that much sweeter than the first, just because so many people had written him off and all that he’d been through in between his two golds.
He’d gone from being the hottest thing out there – making more than $200,000 a year – to not being able to get any sponsors to return his phone calls. Two broken vertebrae from a crash at the end of the 2004 season left him riding scared during his disastrous 2005 season. The following year he melted under the Olympic pressure, failing to make the U.S. team after posting middling results in the qualifying Grand Prix. He was also nearly snubbed for the Winter X Games, getting an invite only a week before the event.
On his second coming as a Winter X Games champion, Fisher said flatly, “I definitely overcame some hurdles.”
A bit of a ham among his teammates on the U.S. Snowboarding halfpipe squad, Fisher often offers up elaborate, untrue responses to questions to incite laughs. In the next instant, he can turn completely serious. Since he does this while keeping a straight face and the same tone, it’s hard to tell when he’s joking and when he’s actually telling the truth.
During a recent conference call with reporters, he responded to general questions about how he prepares for the Winter X Games by explaining that he’s been “fasting” and doing “800-pound squats.”
As for new tricks he’s been working on, Fisher said he’s been perfecting “back-to-back 1440s” in the Breckenridge pipe.
This is funny, at least to Fisher, because there’s the off chance that a reporter with little knowledge of halfpipe riding will actually take what he said literally. (Last year, Fisher’s run featured a backside 540 and two massive 900s sandwiched between two 720s).
What’s hard is to get the typically easy-go-lucky Fisher fired up about something, and, in turn, get him to offer up some unrehearsed insight about all that he’s learned after seemingly coming full circle.
On how tricks progress, Fisher said: “Snowboarding is a plethora of hot gossip, so we know what everybody is doing all the time.”
On his coveted Winter X golds: “It’s definitely a title in which not that many people can say they ever have one, let alone two of.”
White’s supposed superiority is one example, however, where Fisher actually gets a little peeved. Not because he doesn’t respect White, but because Fisher said some of his peers have undeservedly been resigned to second-class status by TV executives and writers looking for good storylines. He can certainly relate to how that feels.
“Snowboarding is just a very extensive field of the world’s most amazing riders, it’s not just Shaun White,” he said. “Shaun tends to get all the credit these days, but the list is 20 people deep of just amazing people. I always compare snowboarding to the PGA Tour where anyone of these guys can win any contest any day.”
“I feel like the media has turned Shaun into the Tiger Woods of snowboarding, but really, it’s anyone’s game every day of the week. Tiger doesn’t always win.”
Of course, the guy who wins the most is the one who gets the most attention. Even in defeat, White was mobbed by a swarm of fans last year on his way to the podium while Fisher had a noticeably easier walk.
If the media wants to make him snowboarding’s “Phil Mickelson or Vijay Singh,” that certainly isn’t a bad thing, Fisher said.
“They do what they do to get the TV ratings,” he said. “It’s cool. I’m just there to have a good time. (The Winter X Games) is the best halfpipe of the year, and it’s just an amazing contest to ride in.”
After a pause, Fisher opens the door just a bit, showing where he has come as a rider and how he’s preparing for his second turn as the defending superpipe champ. He said he’s certainly learned something from the last time he found himself in the same position, and hopes it shows Sunday night under the lights.
“I take it one day at a time,” he said. “I like to rip it up in the pipe, and I definitely feel a little more confident in my riding these days, for sure. It can be anyone’s day or night for that matter. I’m not taking any of it for granted, at all.”
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It was a close game, but after some thrilling back-and-forth plays the Rifle Bears were able to pull off the 28-20 victory over The Academy on May 1.