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Shaun White: Ready, set, go for Winter X Games VIII
Thursday, 22 January 2004





ASPEN - Shaun White's 16th year on this big chunk of dirt was a good one.

Less than four months after turning 16, White won not one, but two gold medals in the 2003 Winter X Games in Aspen, in snowboard slopestyle and snowboard superpipe.

Now, coming off an exhilarating Summer X Games performance, and a win last week at The Honda Session in Vail, he's become one of the most recognizable snowboarders in the world.

While White's performance was one of the most dominant of the games last year,there's no doubt he's hungry to do it again at Winter X Games VIII, which starts Friday with training and continues through Tuesday.

A number of local athletes will be competing, including Steve Fisher, who won the Vans Triple Crown of Snowboarding halfpipe competition on his home turf in Breckenridge in December.

"It's one of the biggest events of the year," Fisher said. "It's really good for the sport, and it's really good for the riders. People are going to be throwing down."

The men's skiing competitions will have plenty of drama, as well. Gold medalist Candide Thovex won the superpipe last year while Tanner Hall finished in second. Then, Hall won the superpipe.

Thovex is a no-show for 2004, but that just gives Hall, the 2003 U.S. Freeskiing Open slopestyle champ, more impetus for sweeping the events this year.

The big story for the women is the unfortunate withdrawal of reigning superpipe champion Gretchen Bleiler, who won eight-straight major halfpipe championships in 2003, including the X Games and the Grand Prix overall.

The Aspen snowboarder suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament during a training run at the Van's Triple Crown event held in Breckenridge in December. The injury ended Bleiler's season before it really had a chance to begin.

That leaves the competition wide open for Kelly Clark or Hannah Teter, last year's second- and third-place finishers.

The injury probably won't stir the mix of the women's snowboard slopestyle event, where Jana Meyen of Oregon took the title last year and is returning to defend it.

In the cross events, Lars Lewen and Aliesha Cline stood on top of the podium for skiers, while Ueli Kestenholz and Lindsey Jacobellis took top honors for snowboarders. Jacobellis, a member of the U.S. Snowboard Team, has enjoyed top-10 finishes in Grand Prix and Vans Triple Crown events this season.

In between all the gravity-driven snow sports are the high-paced motor-sports events.

In the snowmobile competitions, both 2003 Winter X Games gold medalists will be back, with Blair Morgan defending his snocross title and T.J. Gulla doing likewise for his hillcross title.

Last year's motocross big air champion, Mike Metzger, is sitting out this weekend's event.

But the newly created motocross best trick competition will feature all of the top finishers from the Summer X Games Big Air competition held in Los Angeles in August, including gold medalist Brian Deegan.

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