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X-Games Championships draws top skiers and boarders to Whistler

When the first X Games debuted in 1995, it was billed as the extreme Olympics. Ron Semiao, the director for ESPN who came up with the idea, wanted to take the action sports and athletes that had previously existed on the fringes into the mainstream.

The X Games were an instant success on national cable television, and shortly afterwards Semiao expanded the focus to include a Winter X Games, starting in 1997.

Because of the prize money, the crowd-friendly competition formats, and the television exposure – a television audience of 110 million tuned into the Winter X Games in Aspen in February – the X Games have always attracted the top talents in action sports, who in turn have used the opportunity to push their sports to new levels.

The X Games Global Championships, a new element in the X Games universe, were created by Semiao to create a level playing field for regions and countries to compete. Essentially, the X Games Global Championships are a scaled down version of the X Games that pits region against region, with just four athletes – two men and two women – representing each region in each discipline. The regions are Canada, the U.S., South America, Europe, Asia and Australia.

Whistler will be hosting a superpipe event for skiers and boarders, with a total of 24 riders and 18 skiers (one woman per region) taking part.

The athletes were selected based on their results, reputation and availability – a lot of film crews are working at this time of year, and not everybody could make it.

In snowboarding, the women compete today, Friday, May 16, with the practice session running from noon to 1:30 p.m., and the final taking place from 1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. The men compete on Saturday, with the practice from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., and the competition running from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Skiing is on Sunday. The women go first, with a practice from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. and the final from 11 a.m. to noon. The men will practice from noon to 2:30 p.m. and the final will take place between 2:30 p.m. and 3 p.m.

The athletes will be given two runs, with only the best run counting towards the final standings. A first place finish is worth 12 points towards their overall team score, including the summer events taking place simultaneously in San Antonio, Texas. The last place finisher receives one point.

The organizers are expecting huge crowds at the events, as well as a large television audience for the events.

Who are the athletes how have they been chosen?

Team Canada

Snowboard Men

Guillaume Morisset – Morisset lives and trains in Stoneham, Quebec, and is one of the smoothest riders in the country. He’s 23-years-old, and already has some pretty serious titles, like the 2003 U.S. Open title, to his credit. Most recently, he won the Ripzone Snowboard Invitational in Whistler with a run that included back-to-back 900’s.

Justin Lamoureux – Lamoureux is a Whistler local, and usually finishes in the top 10 of any event he enters. Recently he was fourth in the Ripzone Snowboard Invitational, and mixes up his runs with a lot of spins and inverted tricks.

Snowboard Women

Maelle Ricker – Three knee surgeries later, and Whistler’s Maelle Ricker is still at it. She is 24-years-old, our current national champion, and finished seventh in the world snowboarding championships. She also finished a close second in the Ripzone Snowboard Invitational with a run that included frontside 540’s and 720’s. Ricker is no stranger to the X Games, and won gold in the snowboardcross back in 1999.

Natasza Zurek – Zurek has had a quiet season, but came on strong with a pair of silver medals at World Cup events in Japan. She won the Ripzone title with a frontside 540 and a crippler 720. She has World Cup gold medals to her credit, a U.S. Open title, some big wins in the Vans Triple Crown series, and some strong finishes at the X Games.

Ski Men

Philippe Belanger – Belanger was sixth in the X Games superpipe this year, and sixth in the World Skiing Invitational in Whistler. He goes huge, loves to spin, and is incredibly aggressive. A Quebec native, he divides his time between Mont Tremblant and Mammoth Mountain in California.

Philippe Larose – Larose has won the U.S. Open Superpipe for two years in a row, and although he is just 22-years-old, he was one of the pioneers of the new school freeskiing movement. He finished seventh behind Belanger at the World Skiing Invitational.

Ski Women

Sarah Burke – Sarah Burke hails from Midland, Ontario, spends her summers teaching SMS camps in Whistler, and lives in Mammoth, California during the winter. This year she was second in the U.S. Open Superpipe, and first in the World Skiing Invitational. She wins almost every contest she enters.

Team USA

Snowboard Men

Ross Powers – Over his career, Powers has won just about every honour a snowboarder can win, capping it off nicely in February of 2002 with a gold medal at the Olympics. He is easily one of the favourites to win at this event.

Shaun White – White is just 16, and appears to be just as strong on a skateboard as he is on a snowboard. In the last few months, he won the X Games gold medal in the superpipe, and was fourth on his skateboard in the Slam City Jam. He’s also a serious contender for the X Games Global Championships title.

Snowboard Women

Gretchen Bleiler – Bleiler is an Aspen local, and won eight pro superpipe contests in a row this year, including the X Games, the Vans Triple Crown and the Super Pipe Championships, and the U.S. Grand Prix. She’s only 22, but is considered to be one of the top riders in the world.

Kelly Clark – Clark is the reigning Olympic champion, a Vans Triple Crown champion, a 2002 Grand Prix Champion, and has medals and cheques from almost every major pro snowboard event in existence. She was second in the X Games this year.

Ski Men

Tanner Hall – Tanner Hall took silver in the X Games Superpipe this year, and at 19 is widely considered to be the top freeskier in the world. He has top results in the U.S. Open, X Games, Red Bull Huckfest, World Skiing Invitational – all the events that matter on the new school circuit.

CR Johnson – Also 19, Johnson is one of the most promising skiers in the sport. He doesn’t have many superpipe results to his credit, but there’s no question that he has what it takes to win this event.

Ski Women

Kim Stacey – Stacey is a two-time Olympian in the snowboard halfpipe who has made the leap to skiing this year. She was impressive in the World Skiing Invitational, launching almost 10 feet out of the pipe, and making solid grabs and landings. She improves exponentially every event she enters.

Team South America

Snowboard Men

Franz Baehr – From Santiago, Chile, not much is known about Baehr or any of the other South American skiers or boarders. He has appeared in a handful of pro events in the U.S., and has competed in the World Cup as an American, but doesn’t have many top results.

Spiro Razis – Also from Santiago, Razis doesn’t have that many international results to his credit, but is quite well known in the southern hemisphere, and mostly for his skateboarding. In the Latin X Games, he finished third.

Snowboard Women

Isabel Clark Ribeiro – From Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Ribeiro calls Whistler home during the winter months. She has some excellent results in the boardercross to her credit, but not too many pro superpipe events.

Magnolia Barra – From Punta Arenas, Chile, Barra has mostly competed at the Continental Cup level, where she usually finishes in the top 20.

Ski Men

Mauricio Cambilla – Cambilla hails from Carlos De Bariloche, Argentina, and does most of his skiing south of the equator.

Martiniano Nemirovsci – Also from Argentina, Nimirovsci has spent some time in Whistler where he competes in local contests.

Ski Women

To Be Announced

Team Europe

Snowboard Men

Vinzenz Lueps – From Utting, Germany, Lueps is a top competitor on the World Cup halfpipe circuit, and has fared well in pro events in North America and Europe. He was 10 th this year in the U.S. Open superpipe.

Gian Simmen – This Swiss boarder is a threat in every contest he enters. He won the gold medal in the 1998 Olympics, and was the 2001 ISF superpipe champion. This year he won the World Superpipe Championships in Park City, edging out a world-class field. He also dabbles in World Cup, with three gold medals and a silver in his last seven appearances – over a five year period.

Snowboard Women

Anne Molin Kongsgaard – From Norway, Kongsgaard has top results in the Gravity Games, Vans Triple Crown events, and other pro contests.

The second European representative is still to be announced.

Ski Men

Jon Olsson – Olsson hails from Are, Sweden, is 19-years-old, and most recently won the World Skiing Invitational big air in Whistler. He was third in the X-Games superpipe this year, and fourth in the U.S. Open.

Candide Thovex – Thovex won the X Games superpipe this year by almost six points, and was second in the 2002 World Skiing Invitational. From France, he is definitely among the top contenders for the title this weekend.

Ski Women

Marie Martinod – From France, Martinod edged out Canada’s Sarah Burke in the U.S. Open superpipe this year, handing Burke one of her first losses in a pro competition. She’s definitely a contender.

Team Asia

Snowboard Men

Keijiro Kasahara – Japan has its own pro snowboard circuit, and Kasahara is one of its top athletes. He finished fifth in the Nippon Open this year behind Shaun White, Daniel Frank, Guillaume Morisset, and teammate Takahiro Ishihara.

Takashiro Ishihara – Aside from edging out Kasahara in the Nippon Open to finish fourth against an all-star international field, Ishihara was second in the Japan nationals this year.

Snowboard Women

Yuri Yoshikawa – Yuri represented Japan at the Olympics in 2002, finishing 19 th . She won the national championships this year, finished sixth in the Nippon Open, and has competed well on the pro circuit at home and at World Cup level, where she was the first Japanese athlete to win a gold medal.

Junko Asazuma – Junko was seventh in the Nippon Open this year, and is a top competitor on the Japanese pro circuit.

Ski Men

Shoya Okazaki – Shoya is a former ski racer and moguls competitor who has made the switch to freeskiing in recent years. He still competes on the World Cup circuit, and represented Japan at the World Skiing Invitational, where he was an impressive newcomer to the sport, to say the least.

Motoki Shimomura – Shimo has been competing in pro freeskiing events, and has a top 10 finish in the big air event at the 2000 Winter X Games. He doesn’t have a lot of pro results, but attracts attention wherever he goes.

Ski Women

Tomoko Kojima – Not much is known about Tomoko, but judging by the level of Japanese talent in local and pro contests, you can safely bet that she’s pretty good.

Team Australia

Snowboard Men

Andrew Burton – Burton is on the Australian national team, which is starting to show promise on the World Cup circuit.

Marcus Wehrle – Wehrle does not have a lot of results, but was impressive in the Quik Cup last year in finishing third behind Mathieu Crepel of France and Shaun White.

Snowboard Women

Torah Bright – Bright is just 16 but has been competing in pro events for the last couple of years. She improves with every contest, and has top-10 results to her credit in Grand Prix events and the U.S. Championships. She was seventh in the X Games slopestyle this year, and a medallist at the junior world championships.

Holly Crawford – Crawford is the Australian national halfpipe champion, and was 24 th in the FIS World Snowboard Championships.

Ski Men

Woodie Bouma– Although he is best known for his big mountain freeskiing, Bouma is starting to break into new school events. Although he doesn’t have a lot of results, he’s qualifying.

Ben Murphy – Murphy is also a relative newcomer, but won a fairly big contest when he took the slopestyle at the Verbier Ride 2003 Big Mountain Freeride event in Europe this winter.

Ski Women

Cat Smiley – Living in Whistler, born in New Zealand, Cat started to compete in local superpipe contests this season, and is getting pretty good.