ASPEN, Colo. (AP) – Freestyle skier David Wise had a title to defend at the Winter X Games and the world championships, within a few days of each other, in halfpipes more than 5,000 miles apart.
What to do? What to do?
Well, it wasn’t as hard of a decision as it might seem. The Winter X Games helped get halfpipe skiing on the map, which eventually led to it becoming an Olympic sport – and Wise won a gold medal in Sochi because of that.
“This is what matters to us more as a sport,” Wise said of Winter X, which holds the ski halfpipe final Sunday.
Still, Wise was aggravated that it even came down to a choice. He felt the International Ski Federation – the sport’s governing body – wouldn’t budge from holding world championships on the same weekend as Winter X. He wrote a nearly 1,000-word essay on his website, calling the overlap an “unforgivable blunder; one based in arrogance and in a true lack of respect and knowledge of our sport.”
He didn’t back off his stance earlier this week when he addressed the topic again.
“We’re essentially, the athlete field, boycotting the world championships,” said the 24-year-old Wise, who’s from Reno, Nevada. “You can call it that. We’re all here. If you got an X Games invite, you’re at the X Games. Nobody refused an X Games invite.”
Indeed, the X Games lineup is the Who’s Who of the sport: Maddie Bowman of South Lake Tahoe, California, Japan’s Ayana Onozuka, Canada’s Mike Riddle, France’s Kevin Rolland and Wise – all Olympic medal winners last winter.
The world championships lineup didn’t pack as much star power: American Kyle Smaine, the winner of the men’s competition in Kreischberg, Austria, on Thursday, was making his first appearance at worlds.
Wise’s position is succinct – it didn’t have to be like this.
The Winter X Games has basically held the same spot on the calendar – typically the week before the Super Bowl – since they started in 1997. The world championships sets its schedule about five years in advance, before slopestyle and big-air competitions were on the world championship program.
A spokeswoman for FIS said in an email that initially there wasn’t an overlap planned that would impact athletes.
“But as the world championship schedule grew, FIS had to expand our event to include an additional three days,” Jenny Wiedeke wrote. “FIS then did everything in its power to create a schedule that would force as few athletes as possible to have to choose between the two competitions.
“It is a massive scheduling matrix to fit in 24 medal events with nearly 800 athletes into 10 days with courses that share several features. FIS has now included the X Games dates in its future long-term calendar planning to avoid any future conflicts.”
In 2019, when the U.S. hosts world championships in Park City, Utah, officials made sure the dates didn’t clash with X Games.
This isn’t the first time FIS and the action sports have found themselves in conflict.
The snowboarders and freeskiers largely view FIS as an entity that knows a lot about Alpine skiing but not as much about what the flippers and spinners do. But when snowboarding was added to the Olympic program back in 1998, FIS was put in charge of organizing the event. It has been reaching deeper and deeper into the action sports ever since.
“We knew that FIS was the avenue to follow to get our sport into the Olympics, and we thought it was worth it. So we humbled ourselves and kept attending in spite of their many blunders,” Wise wrote in his blog. “Over the years, I have kept my thoughts about FIS to myself, and have truly done my best to work with them, but this time they have crossed the line, and I feel that I must speak up for the sake of freeskiing, and for myself.”
Others on the freeskiing circuit weren’t as outspoken as Wise. They let their itineraries do the talking.
“This is the No. 1 competition of the world,” said Onozuka, the bronze-medal winner in Sochi. “The best riders are coming through. So I wanted to be here.”
Same with Bowman, who captured gold in Aspen a night before Switzerland’s Virginie Faivre won the world championship crown.
“I would love to be in Austria,'” said Bowman, the Olympic gold medalist in Sochi. “But X Games is who our sport is and what we do.”
– By Pat Graham, AP Sports Writer
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