Levi LaVallee kicked off his return to ESPN’s X Games right – by claiming gold in the event’s first snowmobile competition in grand style, using the last run of the night to edge Joe Parsons and grab the top stop.
The victory came on a night in Aspen, Colorado, that can only be described as “scary.” Eight competitors were supposed to run this event, but only four made it to the second run. One racer had sled problems and missed the entire event; another crashed and couldn’t get his sled ready for the second run; and two others were carted off to the local hospital after frightening crashes.
X Games Aspen continues through Saturday.
Round 1 Sets The Stage
Eight competitors were chosen to run the X Games Aspen Snowmobile Freestyle competition, but only 7 made it onto national TV Thursday night, as Heath Frisby had problems in practice and had to watch his teammate Joe Parsons from the sideline.
So, after what seemed like endless coverage of snowboarders on a halfpipe, Texas native Caleb Moore got this event started on Buttermilk Mountain. He’s the older of the two Moore brothers who started in ATV freestyle but have become snowmobile freestyle darlings at this event.
After a tentative start with his first jump, Moore appeared to be gaining confidence when tragedy happened. His rotation came up short on a “superflip” (a backflip with a superman in the middle). His snub-nose Polaris drove into the landing ramp, sending Moore extremely hard head-first into the solid landing ramp. Then the cartswheeling sled followed him down the hill and drive his head into the ground again. The scary crash sucked the air out of the crowd, and paramedics ran to attend to the unconscious driver.
After laying on the track for a long time, Moore miraculously got to his feet and staggered, with help, off the track. It was clear last year’s bronze medalist was done this year, but is was great to see him get to his feet after one of the scariest looking snowmobile crashes ever recorded on live TV.
Last year’s silver medalist was next, and his name is Joe Parsons. The Washington-based 25-year-old shook off the fear of Moore crashing right in front of him and put down what turned out to be round one’s top run. The highlight was something called a “Gator Wrestler” – a backflip during which Parsons rotated around part of the machine. Words don’t do it justice – find it on youtube! That, along with his other tricks, landed him at the top with a score of 88.66.
With the ESPN TV coverage back on snowboarding, Wisconsin native and 2010 Freestyle gold medal winner Justin Hoyer put down a very solid run that earned him a score of 84.00, then Alaska-native Scott Davis rocked his way to a score of 82.00.
Not surprisingly, the TV cameras came back when it was Levi LaVallee’s turn in round 1. LaVallee has become a X Games golden boy, although he hasn’t competed for the past two years. Before the 2011 X Games, LaVallee was seriously injured training for a planned Red Bull New Year’s Eve jump. Last year he made the Red Bull jump, but was broke a bone in his leg practicing shortly thereafter and had to miss X again.
He celebrated his return with a very solid run that landed him in second place. His best trick was a huge Kiss Of Death Backflip – a backflip during which the rider kicks his body away from the sled and gets fully extended when the sled is upside down, then quickly rotates himself back toward the seat before the sled lands. After the run that locked him into second place, the gregarious LaVallee could be heard on TV telling the other competitors, “That’s the best I can do.” They shouldn’t have believed him.
Swedish rider Daniel Bodin came next. The 28-year-old former medalist in Best Trick also missed the X Games last winter with an injury, and during his first run it looked like he might get another. Like Moore earlier, his rotation came up short on a jump and he crashed hard on a hard snow landing ramp. The sled tumbled next to him, barely catching his helmet visor on the first go-around, but then running him over at the end as both completed scrubbing off speed. Bodin popped up quickly, however, and immediately started looking at his bent and twisted snowmobile, hoping to get it ready for round two.
Now it was time for last year’s gold medalist, Colten Moore, to make his 45-second run on the multiple-jump course. But his night ended far too quickly as well. At the exact location where his brother under-rotated and crashed spectacularly to start the round, the 23-year old younger brother actually over-rotated, tail-landing the sled very hard, with the rear of the tunnel reflecting up and smashing Colten Moore hard at the hips. He immediately started pointing at his right hip as paramedics attended to him. He was strapped to a gurney and taken by ambulance to Aspen Valley Medical Center, where his brother was also taken.
Round 2: Going For Gold
Each driver that was left would get a second run. Their highest score between the two runs would count for the medal, so the question was who saved their best for last. Going in, it was obvious both Moore brothers were out, Frisby was still out and Bodin was busy trying to get a sled to ride, so the field was down to four, and three would get medals.
The leader from round 1 ended up going first. Parsons roared quickly through the course, just like he did on round one, hoping extra tricks would impress the judges. His “gator wrestler” was again the highlight, but on his very last trick, on the same landing ramp where the Moore brothers were injured, Parsons had an awkward landing where his right hand slipped off the handlebar. That landing may have cost him in the eyes of the judges after an otherwise flawless run. He “only” got an 88.00 on this run – the second best score of the day to this point, but it wouldn’t outscore his first run, so that would be the one that would count.
Hoyer was next. He was smooth, with a notably slower pace than Parsons. He nailed several flawless jumps but, on the same location where the Moores and Parsons had trouble, Hoyer also bobbled. It was good but not great run, and he scored 85.66 – slightly better than his first run, but he stayed in third place, albeit with a slightly higher score.
Then it was Davis’ turn to try to crack the podium. The master of the huge whip did it again, throwing a monster to start his run and following that with a trick that included a backflip – a staple for most freestylers but a new addition for Davis. It would be Davis’ only backflip, and that might have cost him in the judges’ eyes. He scored 82.00 – the same exact score he got in round one – and would stay in fourth.
Because of Bodin’s inability to get a running sled after his earlier crash, LaVallee would close the night on the freestyle course. He did it in style.
When LaVallee started, he kept looking down at the running boards of his sled – it was unclear if he didn’t like the positioning of the brackets that hold his feet or something else, but he didn’t look confident in something at first – until he hit the first jump. Then the Levi that the X Games judges love sprang to life. He did many of the same tricks he did on his first run, but with a little more flair. There was a knack-flip, a stretched out double grab, backflip tricks including a rock solid and the “look through kiss of death” that highlighted his first run. In the end, it would be up to the judges to determine if LaVallee’s second run was better than Parsons’ first. They said it was – barely. LaValle scored an 89.00, edging Parsons by 0.34 and earning him the gold medal.
LaVallee was overjoyed afterwords, tell an ESPN reporter, “I was so dang nervous … It’s pretty amazing, I’ve had a couple of rough years with injuries, just to come out to X Games and compete, it’s a dream come true. And then to win gold? It’s unbelievable.”
Parsons had to settle for silver, Hoyer locked down bronze, and many prayers were sent through the air to the Moore family.