Levi LaVallee grabbed his second gold medal of the X Games Aspen Saturday afternoon, dominating the Speed & Style competition that combines the time element of snocross with the points gathering in freestyle, all on one course.
In doing so, the 30-year-old Polaris racer from Longville, Minnesota, gathered his sixth gold in X Games history and set himself up for huge expectations for Sunday’s X Games finale, when he’ll compete in the snocross and best trick competitions.
LaVallee also put an exclamation point on his return to X Games after missing the previous two high-profile events with injuries.
Narrowing The Field
Eight drivers were invited to compete in the Speed & Style competition at the X Games Aspen. Those drivers were set into a bracket based on their qualifying runs in both course speed and freestyle points.I
The course layout started drivers side-by-side at the starting line. On green, they pinned the throttle for just a couple of seconds on a short shoot, then took a hard left that pointed them toward a huge ramp. That’s where the “style” part of the competition would occur. During each race/competition, each driver would hit the ramp three times and would perform aerial trips, for which they would gain points from the judges.
On the rest of the course, which featured a handful of turns and several whoops but no tabletops or other usual snocross features, the racers tried to put in the best timed laps they could. In the end, the drivers got freestyle points, and then the fastest driver got the gap in seconds and hundredths of seconds, added to his score. It was one-and-done from there on out – the person with the highest combined score advanced and the loser was parked.
In the first quarterfinal, top qualifier Levi LaVallee faced late fill-in Justin Hoyer. LaVallee got the holeshot on the short-shoot, then the two drivers did similar tricks on the big ramp. LaVallee then pulled away through the whoops and continued to gain distance throughout the race. When they came back around to the ramps, backflips were in order. Both got decent scores but had some crooked landings, but Levi opened a wide lead on the snocross course and advanced easily – 92.28 to 83.
The second quarterfinal featured Willie Elam vs. Sam Rogers. Elam is a snocross racer who does freestyle, while Rogers is a freestyler who was trying snocross. It showed in the scores. Rogers threw some beautiful tricks and won the freestyle scoring 85.66 to 80.33, but Elam won the timed part of the course by more than 7 seconds and advanced, 88.12 to 85.66.
Joe Parson has made a habit of collecting medals at the X Games, and was looking for his 11th medal to be a gold. He faced off against 18-year-old X Games rookie Joe McLafferty. The rook got the early lead on the snocross course, but Parsons is an animal in freestyle, an event in which he received the silver medal on Thursday at this year’s X Games. Actually, his featured trick is named after an animal – it’s a Gator Wrestler. He threw it again in this event and won over the judges, while McLafferty struggled on the ramps, including not doing any trick on his last pass. That cost him big time – Parsons had a 89.66 to 75.00 gap in the freestyle score and advanced easily.
Freestyle legend Heath Frisby was pitted against Alaska-based snocross/freestyle crossover artist Cory Davis in the final quarterfinal. Last season, when Davis ran the ISOC circuit in snocross, he would also take part in the freestyle display during a break in the action, doing everything EXCEPT a backflip. Well, he finally added a backflip to his repertoire about three weeks ago, and he was No. 1 on speed in X Games qualifying. The combination was lethal – Davis did his new backflip and his patented monster whip, while a dinged up Frisby fought his way through the competition with bruised ribs. The freestyle scores were close, but Davis won the speed portion by more than 20 seconds, leading to a final score of 108.14 to 86. Davis advanced.
LaVallee then took on Elam in the first semi final. LaVallee wowed the judges with his Kiss Of Death Backflip/Superflip and Cordova Backflip, winning the freestyle score 90.33 vs. 84.66 for Elam, and then also beating Elam by nearly two seconds in the speed competition. LaVallee would go to the finals, while Elam would be sent to the race for the bronze.
The other semi pitted Parsons against Davis. The two Cat drivers trained together before the X Games and are friends, and that showed in the snocross portion, because there were several times they were close but each driver gave the other a lot of room and respect. Parsons Gator Wrestler again wowed the crowd and the judged, but on the last lap the Washington-based competitor went wide in a turn, over a berm and tipped over. He never finished the timed portion of the course, meaning whip master Davis would advance to the gold medal round.
The battle for the bronze medal came first, and it was the day’s most entertaining competition.
On green, the two sleds powered toward turn one side by side. When they went to make the hard left, however, Parsons got into Elam, the two hooked skis and both sleds and drivers went very wide and out of control. They missed the freestyle ramps and went a TV crew scrambling out of the way, and even ran over a television cable. The race was red flagged for a restart, with X Games snowmobile coorindator (and former WSA/WPSA co-owner) Joe Duncan speaking to both racers when they returned to the starting line.
On green the second time, Elam got the slight jump and when they got that first turn he cut in sharp in front of Parsons. Parsons didn’t lift off the throttle, taking on several course markers and again bumping Elam wide. The red flag waved again. This time, Duncan looked mad. He ruled that Parsons should start behind Elam to avoid another restart – a ruling that clearly angered Parsons.
The third start was a charm. Elam stayed ahead the entire time on the course, but Parsons was an ace in the freestyle competition. The freestyle scores were Parsons 88.33 vs. 81.66 for Elam. Elam ran about 5 seconds faster on the course, but it wasn’t enough to make up the gap, and Parsons got the bronze.
Now it was time for the gold medal battle: LaVallee got lane choice and placed his Mystic Oil-backed Polaris on the inside line, with Davis on the Christian Bros. Cat on his right. Levi grabbed the slight lead early, then both drivers threw identical superman-esque tricks on the first ramp hit. Then LaVallee started to open a gap on the snocross course – 1.54 on the first lap, 2.06 on the second and a bigger gap on the third. Not only that, LaVallee again played his Kiss Of Death Backflip and Cordova Backflip while Davis had one backflip and another monster whip. LaVallee thus got the style points 90 to 85.66, and then also won the timed equation by nearly a second to earn the gold medal, with Davis gaining silver.
Afterwards, LaVallee was asked about his potential advantage as both a snocross racer and a freestyler by ESPN reporter Jamie Little. “I don’t know if I’m good at either one of them,” the self-deprecating star said with a smile. He said he could hear Davis behind him the whole time, and added that the flat light make this event even more challenging than it normally is.
“The light was terrible, I can’t even imagine being behind” in the snowdust, LaVallee said. “I couldn’t see anything, and I had clear vision ahead of me.”
X Games Aspen wraps up tomorrow with Snowmobile Best Trick and Snowmobile SnoCross events, along with Adaptive Snocross.
For fabulous photos, check out the Wayne Davis Photography Inc. Facebook page.
To read about LaVallee’s victory Thursday in Freestyle, click here.