The X-Games, these games before the Games

For freestyle snowboarders and skiers, missing Aspen’s Rendez-Vous is unimaginable even when it takes place every four years, two weeks from the Olympic Games. The trip is double or nothing: they can feel confident and hurt themselves.

As always in such situations, the images are difficult to sustain. Yuri Podladchikov takes up his momentum, flies high above the half-pipe and realizes a “double alley-oop backside rodeo”, as expected until he misses his reception and falls heavily forward, face against ICE. There will be long, Immobile seconds in the middle of the half tube at Aspen station in the United States. His performance at The X-Games turns into a nightmare and calls into question his participation in the Olympic Games that begin in ten days, in South Korea.

Every four years, the question arises for the best freestyle snowboarders and skiers in the world: should we Chain The X-Games and the Olympic Games? The first pass for the unmissable event of the middle of the extreme sports. The latter offers a unique exhibition to the general public. Both events, in their way, can change the course of a career. Also, most of the athletes invited to The “X’s” and qualified for the Olympics choose to… not choose, and move in two weeks from one to the other. Even if, with the long trips, the jet lag and the pressure of the two most prestigious competitions of the winter, it can be double or nothing.

The 22nd Winter X-Games, which took place in Aspen last weekend, demonstrated this in the small Swiss delegation of seven skiers and three snowboarders. Geneva-based Sarah Höfflin (27) has – for her first appearance-won the big air competition, and she will approach the Pyeongchang Games with confidence. Zurich’s Yuri Podladchikov has been wounded in the half-pipe (broken nose, concussion) and no one risks to predict whether he will be restored to defend the Olympic title won in Sochi in 2014.

The pulse of the planet slips

If the 29-year-old from Zurich were to miss the call, Switzerland would lose a chance at a major medal and a potential flag bearer. But when it was time to announce the athletes who were finally selected for South Korea, Swiss Olympic chef de mission Ralph Stöckli had no choice but to take it: “of course I regret this injury, but that’s the way it is. It could also have happened in training, and it is unimaginable to ask the athletes concerned to ignore the X-Games in the name of the Olympic Games. A good result there can give them a lot of positive energy: for them, this event is very important.»

It is completely unavoidable. Its origin dates back to 1994 when the ESPN television network created the ESPN 2 channel with the vocation of covering the so-called extreme disciplines. A few months later, she organized a rally in Rhode Island for sports like skateboarding and BMX, and the success was immediate. In 1997, the rendezvous was released for the first time in a winter version, which attracted 38,000 spectators. The public will continue to grow until, in recent years, it exceeds the 100,000 people gathered during a weekend in Aspen.

At the same time as a sports competition, a music festival and a trade fair, The X-Games make it possible to feel the pulse of the sliding planet. “Every year, it’s here and nowhere else that we measure the evolution of our sport,” says former snowboarder David Plitschi on the phone. Le Vaudois took part in the first edition of the event more than 20 years ago, now goes there with the cap of “global brand manager” for Salomon, and perfectly realizes the path traveled. “At the beginning, it was very small, with few disciplines represented. Over the years, it’s become huge. From now on, all the riders are there, all the brands that count as well. In the middle, it has become the place to be.»

Playing on both sides

But gradually, the Olympic Games also began to count for freestyle athletes, after a contrasted relationship began. When, in 1998, the IOC included snowboarding in the Nagano Program, David Plitschi was among the “dissidents”, the purists who refused to go. Today, he regrets having failed to live “an extraordinary experience”, and understands that now the athletes want to play on both sides.

“My parents follow the Olympic Games, The X-Games much less: the repercussions for an unfamiliar public are incomparable. Also, those who can afford it simply dream of winning both. American Chloe Kim (17), a little prodigy of the half-pipe, confirmed this last week to AFP: “winning here would be great. Win the Olympics, too.”She has imposed herself on Aspen and hopes to reoffend in Pyeongchang.

For French skier Marie Martinod (33), freestyle specialists are really at home in the Colorado mountains. “Our disciplines would not be at the Olympic Games without the” X’s”: they were the first to believe in us, it’s really our DNA, explained to AFP half-pipe champion silver medallist in Sochi and two-time winner in Aspen. At The X-Games, you wrinkle with more heart, higher, stronger.”With the risks involved.

With Janka and 171 athletes

Switzerland will send to Pyeongchang a delegation of 171 athletes, a record of Sochi beaten: they were 163 in 2014 and had collected 11 medals. The official objective, unveiled yesterday on the sidelines of the presentation of the uniforms to the athletes in Luterbach (Solothurn), is to do better in South Korea than in Russia. Swiss Olympic has also decided to select Alpine skier Carlo Janka, who is back from injury and has not competed yet this winter. Officials estimate that if the 2010 Olympic champion of the giant returns in form, he will be able to aim for a top 8. L. Pt