Shaun White or Kevin Pearce: Who will win Olympic gold in 2010?
I flew home from Aspen last night on the same plane with Shaun White and I'll say this: He looks downright ridiculous trying to mask his identity by tucking his long, red locks into a knit ski cap and wearing gold-rimmed glasses.
But the star snowboarder from Carlsbad (pictured above), with two new X Games medals in his luggage, deserved some peace and quiet after a long night of celebration.
That said, here are some perceptions gleaned from the X Games, looking forward to the Vancouver Olympics next winter:
-- Snowboard superpipe: White or Kevin Pearce will win Olympic gold if both Burton riders remain healthy leading to the Games. Pearce has become White's nemesis and many in the press tent thought Pearce, not White, deserved the X Games gold medal. Pearce claimed the silver.
-- Snowboard superpipe women: There'll be no U.S. sweep. Australia's Torah Bright, winner of X Games gold, is too technically sound and her Cab 720 is a trick few men can pull off. Bright and Kelly Clark look like winners. Olympic gold medalist Hannah Teter needs lots of practice and some new tricks to have any chance of repeating. Gretchen Bleiler, the 2006 silver medalist, was ailing during the X Games and took a nasty fall. She expects to contend for Olympic gold.
-- Snowboarder X: If Nate Holland rides like he does at the X Games, he earns his first Olympic gold medal. His four-peat performance at the X Games was remarkable, given the dynamics of a sport that involves such close-quarter racing at breakneck speeds.
-- Snowboarder X women: Lindsey Jacobellis will win Olympic gold and put to rest all criticism, once and for all, regarding her hot-dogging crash while holding a giant lead at the 2006 Olympics, and settling for second. She is far and away the best in the world.
-- Skier X: This sport suffers from an identity crisis but will make its Olympics debut at Vancouver. Many in its ranks are ex-Alpine racers and still want to dress like Alpine racers, and still want courses to be built like Alpine courses. Despite their poor finishes at the X Games, however, either Daron Rahlves and Casey Puckett should end up on the podium.
-- Skier X women: There were no U.S. skiers in the X Games field, and there will be no U.S. women on the Olympic podium.
-- Pete Thomas
Shaun White photos by Tomas Zuccareno (top) and Eric Lars Bakke / Shazamm/ESPN Images