Anna Gasser

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Chloe Kim, David Wise among X Games headliners

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The X Games return to Aspen, Colorado, this week at Buttermilk Mountain. A marquee event on the yearly snowboarding and freeskiing calendar, the X Games will feature a handful of Olympic gold medalists and notable names in action sports. Below are a few storylines to watch for this week:

Nearly full field of Olympic gold medalists will compete in Aspen

All four freestyle skiing gold medalists in X Games events (halfpipe, slopestyle) and five of six Olympic snowboarding champions (slopestyle, halfpipe, big air) are expected to compete in Aspen. Among them is Chloe Kim, who has not lost a contest since the Olympics. She finished last season with a win at the US Open, and has three victories already this season, including at the Dew Tour in December. Since the Olympics, Kim’s star has only grown: she’s thrown out the first pitch at a Dodgers game and become an awards show regular, but her ability to crush her competition on the pipe remains unchanged.

In addition to Kim, the three other U.S. gold medalists from 2018 should all contend: in men’s ski halfpipe, two-time defending Olympic gold medalist David Wise has continued to impress this season, but as in previous years, he’ll be challenged by his teammates, Aaron Blunck and Aspen native Alex Ferreira, who would skip school as a kid to watch the X Games in person. Snowboard slopestyle gold medalists Red Gerard and Jamie Anderson are both podium threats as well.

After missing Olympics, can Sildaru sweep in Aspen?

Three years ago, a quiet and unassuming Kelly Sildaru won her first X Games title at 13, becoming the youngest ever winner in a winter event. Pegged early as a star for the PyeongChang Games in both slopestyle and halfpipe, the Estonian teenager missed the Olympics with a torn left ACL. Sildaru, who hails from a country with no mountains, will attempt a rare triple in Aspen: she’ll compete in slopestyle, halfpipe, and big air. No winter sports athlete has ever won three gold medals at the same X Games contest. Sildaru missed last year’s event due to her knee injury and has looked sharp so far this season: she won the U.S. Grand Prix in halfpipe and the Dew Tour in slopestyle. Sildaru has four X Games medals in total: two in slopestyle and two in big air.

White’s protégé awaits his big moment

Toby Miller learned from the best: the 18-year-old was mentored by three-time Olympic gold medalist Shaun White, who brought Miller to PyeongChang as his guest. White hasn’t competed since the Olympics, focusing instead on skateboarding, while Miller is having a notable season of his own: he finished third at the Dew Tour and second at the U.S. Grand Prix. The U.S. halfpipe contingent remains deep: Olympians Jake Pates, Ben Ferguson and Chase Josey are all contenders on any given day, though PyeongChang bronze medalist Scotty James will likely be the favorite.

Big tricks

The X Games are often a staging point for new tricks: in 2017, Norway’s Marcus Kleveland became the first to land a quad in competition, only to be topped by Canadian Max Parrot, who won the event with a quad of his own. Chloe Kim and PyeongChang big air gold medalist Anna Gasser have been at the forefront of innovative tricks this season. Kim, a four-time X Games winner, is still far ahead of the field with back-to-back 1080s, which she used last weekend at a World Cup event in Laax. In October 2018, she became the first woman to land a frontside double cork 1080, though she has yet to execute it in competition. Kim can win easily with the arsenal of tricks she already has – but she’d make a bit of history if she decides to go for it.

In November, Gasser became the first woman to land a cab triple underflip, though like Kim, she has not done so in competition. Known for her progressive approach to the sport and impressive arsenal of difficult tricks, Gasser could attempt the triple at the X Games.

Watch Anna Gasser become first woman to land triple cork

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Anna Gasser became the first female snowboarder to land a triple cork in an Instagram video posted Tuesday, according to the International Ski Federation.

“It’s a trick with consequences, and you really have to put everything on the line if you want to succeed,” Gasser said, according to Red Bull, adding that she did it on her first attempt of the day. “You can easily overrotate on the third flip which makes landing safely impossible. Today it just felt right, and I am happy I ticked that one off my list – it doesn’t feel like such a big thing, but I guess it’s another milestone in women’s snowboarding!”

It’s not surprise that it’s the Austrian who broke the barrier. Gasser won big air’s Olympic debut in PyeongChang, off the world’s tallest ramp (49 meters), and has a history of performing first-ever tricks.

In 2013, she became the first woman to land a cab double cork 900. In 2017, she won the world title with the first backside double 1080 done in a female contest.

Gasser’s feat came just four years after Brit Katie Ormerod became the first woman to land a double in practice.

The triple cork was first linked to the Olympics going into Sochi 2014, when it was considered a must-have to contend for gold in men’s slopestyle’s debut.

Shockingly, American Sage Kotsenburg won with a stylish run that didn’t include a triple cork, while silver and bronze medalists Staale Sandbech and Mark McMorris each threw the triple.

A brief history of triple-cork breakthroughs:

2010: Norway’s Torstein Horgmo becomes the first man to land a triple cork in big air training.
2012: Canadian Mark McMorris lands the first triple cork in competition in a big air event.
2015: China’s Zhang Yiwei becomes the first man to land a triple cork in a halfpipe (in practice; it hasn’t been done in competition).

And now Gasser, who has become one of her nation’s biggest sports stars. She earned Austria’s Female Athlete of the Year a second straight time this year, more than doubling the points of the runner-up. She is the only male or female snowboarder to earn the annual honor in a country known for its Alpine skiers.

Gasser has won every major title in big air – Olympics, worlds, X Games Aspen — but lacks a slopestyle victory among those events. She was a gymnast until age 14. At 17, she decided she wanted to become a pro snowboarder. Five years later, she competed in slopestyle’s Olympic debut in Sochi.

NBC Olympic Research contributed to this report.

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VIDEO: Chloe Kim lands never-been-done 1260 in halfpipe

Michael Phelps, Usain Bolt, Simone Biles win ESPYs

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Michael PhelpsUsain Bolt and Simone Biles earned ESPY awards on Wednesday for their Rio Olympic triumphs.

Phelps earned best record-breaking performance for extending his records for most Olympic medals (28) and gold medals (23).

“Today is my wife’s birthday, and we met here 10 years ago,” said Phelps, who was also named the best male U.S. Olympic athlete. “It’s the most amazing thing in the world.”

Bolt won best international athlete for a third time. He also did so in 2013 and 2017, one year after sweeping the Olympic 100m and 200m as he did in Rio.

Biles took best female U.S. Olympic athlete and best female athlete over nominees including Katie Ledecky.

“Ever since Rio, it has been an amazing year, and the best part of all has been meeting all of the young people who look up to all the athletes in this room,” Biles said in her acceptance speech. “It is an incredible honor and responsibility of being a role model.”

Snowboarding stars Mark McMorris and Anna Gasser won best action sports athlete awards.

A full list of winners is here.

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