This year, Daniel Bodin didn’t talk a back seat to anybody on the opening day of the ESPN Winter X Games.
The snowmobiler from Sweden has been a staple at the X Games the last four years, and each year he finished fourth in the Freestyle competition – definitely good enough to get attention and make the final, but always one position short of earning a medal and a spot on the podium.
Riding in place of the popular Levi LaVallee, a former gold medalist who suffered a broken pelvis and other injuries when he crashed practicing for a jumping distance record, Bodin make the most of the opportunity and took home X Games Gold Thursday night in front of a record first-day crowd for the event, held again this year in Aspen, Colorado.
LaVallee is recovering from his injuries and unable to compete, but is was at Winter X to cheer on his friends and teammates, and Thursday he even announced along with fellow X Games gold medalist Chris Burandt over the national televison broadcast of the event. When it was over, LaVallee was like a proud papa.
“After four years in fourth place, I think he would have been happy to just make it onto the podium. To go home with the gold, [I’m sure] he’s absolutely pumped,” LaVallee said.
The competition started earlier in the day with qualifying runs which paired the field to the top eight riders. They were split into two rounds of heats for Thursday night’s live broadcast. The top two competitors in each set of heats would advance to the final.
In the first round, Norway’s Aleksander Norgaard, winner of the silver medal in 2007, showed well but didn’t really flash much style and was eliminated along with Quebecor Jeff Mullin, 23. Their heat was dominated by Bodin, who had two stellar, trick-filled runs. Texas native Caleb Moore, a crossover freestyler who first earned his fame jumping ATVs, was a solid second thanks to some big air, high risk jumps and a trademark Tsunami Backflip, but he had several rough landings that likely hurt his score.
The other round of heats was dominated by defending X Games Gold Medalist Justin Hoyer of Ellsworth, Wisconsin. He came out of the earlier qualifying as the No. 1 seed, but a couple of crashes in practice proved he wasn’t completely on his game Thursday night. In this qualifying run, however, he put up an untouchable score of 90.33.
Behind him was a brawl for the final qualifying spot. In the first half of the heat, Washington native Joe Parsons – who earned X Games Gold in freestyle in 2009, notched a score of 87.66, but that was tied in round two by Coltan Moore, Caleb’s younger brother. To earn the spot in the final, Parsons put up another 87.66 to win the tie-breaker, thanks in part to a cliffhanger with a no-handed landing.
Much like in the heats, each rider would get two timed runs in the final. Parsons got the first set started right with a no handed flip, followed by a one-handed takeoff that led into another trick. He was on his game, but almost came up short on one landing and scored an 86.33. That was immediately followed by Moore, who chased his Tsunamic Backflip with a trick called the Flying Squirrel. Again, he wasn’t as smooth as the others, but his tricks were spectacular, earning him a score of 90.
Bodin followed with a dynamic run that ended with a huge, fully extended seat grab backflip over the huge 100 foot jump. His run earned him a high score of the night so far at 91.33. All eyes turned to Hoyer. The defending champ was certainly solid and did all of his tricks, but he was a bit off. Announcers reported that he was feeling ill – not exactly great timing for the rider. He earned a 90.66.
The final set of runs featured some monstrous air and cool tricks, but the positions didn’t change at all. Parsons went first, improved his score, but slotted in right behind Moore’s first run. That guaranteed Moore at least the bronze, and while he again dazzled on a couple of his tricks, he didn’t score high enough to move up.
The leader Bodin went third, but his score was severely affected by one particular hit where he didn’t do his trick – it appeared he wasn’t comfortable with how he came off the launch ramp. That appeared to open the door to Hoyer. He pushed as hard as he could, but again it appeared the illness had him just a tiny bit off his game. He did his tricks really well, but he was missing some of his usual showmanship, and hecame up just short with a score of 91.00.
The ESPN Winter X Games continue through the weekend in Aspen. Check back here for further reports.