Sarah Burke, one of world’s best action sports stars, stuck on sideline when Olympics come

By Eddie Pells, AP
Thursday, January 28, 2010

Action sports star Burke can’t find spot at games

ASPEN, Colo. — Young, well-spoken, an envelope-pushing sex symbol and, most of all, extremely talented in a popular action sport, 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 program.

“Really unfortunate and frustrating,” she said.

The Canadian 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 last year.

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. In skiing slopestyle Thursday, she finished sixth. Kaya Turski of Quebec was the winner.

Burke 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 traveled 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 that 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 audience.

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 or two.

Halfpipe skiing is essentially the same sport White has brought into the mass culture on a snowboard. It’s contested 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 sideways.”

AP Sports Writer Pat Graham in Aspen, Colo., contributed to this report.

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