ASPEN, Colo. — Young, well-spoken, an envelope-pushing sex symbol and,
most of all, extremely talented in a popular action sport, Canadian
Sarah Burke has everything the Olympics supposedly wants these days.
To find Burke in Vancouver next month, though, best look in the stands
or on her couch because she won’t be competing. One of the most
talented athletes on snow, her sport has no place on the Olympic
“Really unfortunate and frustrating,’’ said the native of Midland, Ont.
Burke is the 2009 champion in Winter X Games skiing superpipe, and she
led the charge to have women’s slopestyle added to the X Games schedule
Both disciplines are popular among the action sports community and have
potential to be included in the Olympics, maybe as soon as 2014.
Neither, however, caught the eye of the International Olympic Committee
in time to get a 2010 spot for Burke, who lives between Vancouver and
Whistler, is 27 and whose sizzling FHM magazine shoot from 2006 comes
up first when her name is punched into Google.
“Just nothing I can do about it right now,’’ she said. “The big thing
is trying to stay in it, and hang on ’til the next one.’’
Burke tries to defend her X Games title in skiing superpipe Friday, and was set to compete in skiing slopestyle Thursday.
She is reluctant to complain about her lot in X Games life. She has
good endorsements with clothing designers, a goggles company and an
energy drink. She’s a frequent star in ski movies and has travelled the
world many times over, searching for powder, jumps and adrenaline.
Things, of course, could always be better. She sees the way halfpipe
rider Shaun White, with his unique looks and undeniable talent, has
become both a mainstream and an extreme sports star.
She sometimes wonders if it could have been her.
“I think we’re all doing this, first off, because we love it and want
to be the best,’’ Burke said. “But I also think it would’ve been a
great opportunity, huge for myself and for skiing and for everyone, if
we could’ve gotten into the Olympics. It’s sad. I mean, I’m super lucky
to be where I am, but that would’ve been pretty awesome.’’
The next step in determining the Olympic future of slopestyle and
skiing halfpipe will come in June, when the International Ski
Federation (FIS) decides whether to submit the sports to the
International Olympic Committee for consideration for the 2014 Games.
Snowboarding got fast-tracked for inclusion in 1998, when the IOC came
to the realization that there weren’t enough sports on the winter
program, and that they needed events that would capture a younger
That trend continued when snowboardcross was added in 2006, then its
cousin, skicross, was brought in for 2010. Both are four-person races
(six at the X Games) down a course filled with jumps and bumps and
jostling — great television that almost always provides a scary crash
Halfpipe skiing is essentially the same sport White has brought into
the mass culture on a snowboard, even in the same halfpipe, but on skis
instead of a board.
Slopestyle, on either skis or snowboards, would offer a different kind
of excitement: Riders careen down courses set up with rails, jumps and
other obstacles and fly high through the air, twisting and flipping. In
other words, pretty much everything a mother lectures her kids not to
do when they head out to the mountain.
“You go to any resort around the U.S., around the world, and they’ve
got these parks, they’ve got the jumps, they’ve got the jibs, they’ve
got the boxes,’’ said Tim Reed, the senior director of sports and
competition for the X Games. “It’s what the kids are doing, males,
females, boys, girls. There’s lots of participation and you know the
growth is going to be tremendous.’’
Question is, will the growth at the highest level come in time to
benefit the athletes at the top of the sport right now, who put their
lives and careers on the line everytime they strap on skis?
One of the best halfpipe skiers, Tanner Hall, shredded the ligaments in
both knees during preparation for a movie shoot last spring. He’s still
recovering, not able to compete in the Winter X Games this year.
“I’ve done all I could,’’ Hall said of the fight to bring his sport
into the Olympics. “I’ve put in all my knowledge and what I think.
That’s all I can do. You can’t change the world by yourself. All you
can do is put in your effort, put in your part and hope for the best.’’
Burke, who fought to have women’s slopestyle included in the X Games,
got her wish last year, then promptly went to the hill, landed
awkwardly and broke a vertebrae in her lower back. Her recovery was
slowed when she hurt her shoulder in December, and the Winter X Games
is her first major competition since the injury.
When this is over, she’ll head back to British Columbia and cheer on a
couple of her snowboarder friends. She’ll follow Canada’s quest to win
the medal count on its home soil — a mission that largely will be
driven by the country’s stellar freestyle and snowboarding teams.
She’ll also soak in the irony that one of the most successful, yet
least-known, winter sports team in Canada is the skiing halfpipe team.
According to the team Web site, every member of the team is ranked in
the top 10 in the world, and they do it without the funding that
Olympic-sport teams receive.
“We don’t need anything different,’’ Burke said. “Just a timeslot and
a couple judges. It’s a top-selling sport. It’s frustrating. It’s the
exact same thing, except we go backward and forward instead of