ASPEN – A fractured shoulder blade last year knocked Tom Wallisch out of the Winter X Games. Now, he has broken the record for the highest score in skiing slopestyle.
Wallisch continued his run of domination Thursday with a convincing win on Buttermilk Mountain, his mark of 96 – on a 100-point scale – more than enough for his first Winter X medal and a sizeable margin over Nick Goepper and Norwegian Andreas Hatveit.
The eight-person final, consisting of three tries apiece across six features on a 1,600-foot course with a 280-foot vertical drop, carried more significance because of the inclusion of slopestyle in the Olympics, beginning with the 2014 Sochi Games. Plus, the event was at night for the first time in Winter X history, preventing prior problems with landings that surfaced because of hard-to-read shadows in the middle of the afternoon.
Absent from the field were defending champion Sammy Carlson, who narrowly failed to qualify, in ninth, and New Zealander Jossi Wells, a two-time Winter X medalist who also missed the cut, in 14th. On a track slickened by a steady snowfall, a greater emphasis was placed on jumps, with four through a section known as the “financial district,” and a mere two jib portions (one over a wall and one over a Jeep) before an 80-foot closing launcher.
Everybody around Wallisch faltered, from Breckenridge resident Bobby Brown, a big air silver medalist last year; to Australian Russ Henshaw, the runner-up to Carlson last year; to Alex Schlopy, the big air winner last year; to Telluride resident Gus Kenworthy. And Wallisch, 24, of Pittsburgh, kept his composure, impressing judges with his creativity and his versatility on the heels of a pair of triumphs at Winter Dew Tour competitions.
Wallisch eclipsed French skier Candide Thovex’s record, established in 2007, by a point with a winning series – on his final attempt – that concluded with a double cork 1,080. It “was good. It went well. It was scary,” he said. “I definitely had to ad-lib it a little bit up top, and I’m happy to figure out some rail tricks up there. … Finally, it all clicked.” He added that overcoming adversity makes it “the best return ever. It couldn’t go any better.”
BURKE HONORED WITH VIGIL
About 100 Winter X athletes carried glow sticks into a dark halfpipe in an emotional, 10-minute memorial for Canadian freestyle skier Sarah Burke, who died last week as a result of a brain injury that she suffered Jan. 10 in a training crash in Park City, Utah. A tribute to Burke aired on ESPN, and illuminated images of Burke flashed through the pipe as her family, including her husband, Rory Bushfield, gathered in front of a crowd of thousands.
“We have someone watching from above that we need to make proud,” said Kaya Turski, a Canadian slopestyle skier. “We all need to follow in Sarah’s footsteps. … Even when she didn’t need to, she was trying new tricks, landing new tricks. Now, it’s our turn to keep pushing for her.” Slopestyle skier Devin Logan added, “Live on her legacy for as long as we ski – that’s what we’re all here to do. We all came out to ski for her today.”
TOP SKIER HAS BROKEN LEG
French ski cross competitor Ophelie David has been diagnosed with a fractured left fibula following an accident Wednesday in Winter X practice. David claimed four straight skier X golds from 2007 to 2010, and last year, she was runner-up to Canadian Kelsey Serwa, who was sidelined last week after tearing ligaments in her knee.
WOMEN’S SKIING SLOPESTYLE
1. Kaya Turski, Montreal
2. Devin Logan, West Dover, Vt.
3. Anna Segal, Melbourne, Australia
What to know: Turski became the first woman in Winter X history to perform a switch 1,080, coming from behind on her final run for her record third straight gold.
Quoting Turski: “The level is getting really high, and I’m excited to just keep pushing the sport. … I’ve just been training hard. I do a lot of work in the gym, trampoline work.”
1. Forest Bailey, Jamaica, Vt.
2. Ryan Paul, Cottage Grove, Minn.
3. Nick Visconti, Truckee, Calif.
What to know: Bailey survived Paul’s closing backflip to triumph in his Winter X debut.
Quoting Bailey: “I can’t believe this. I never thought I would come to X Games, let alone win a medal. The setup was awesome, and the crowd was awesome.”
1. Colten Moore, Krum, Texas
2. Joe Parsons, Yakima, Wash.
3. Caleb Moore, Krum, Texas
What to know: Colten Moore bested his older brother with a Superman seat grab that transitioned into a no-handed backflip, then for style points, he celebrated by Tebowing.
Quoting Colten Moore: “This year, I have been a little behind in my training. I have been practicing a lot, and I knew I had to come out and stomp the best run of my life.”