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Sunday, January 28, 2007
Updated: January 18, 2:50 PM ET
The Fisher King

By Brian Kamenetzky
EXPN.com

We are a society that claims to love surprises and embrace upsets. We've all seen Hoosiers, we've all dabbed away tears while watching those plucky, short-shorted Indiana lads. But in reality, America loves superstars. More specifically, we love superstars who make mincemeat out of their overmatched competition, enforcing and re-enforcing the notion that they are invincible. Michael Jordan. Tiger Woods.

Shaun White. Senor Blanco. Herr Winter X.

Heading into the event, the buzz around the Winter X 11 men's superpipe competition centered around the high flying, fast spinning young guns, and how they might conquer Mount White. Danny Davis. Louie Vito. Scotty Lago. Mason Aguirre. So when only Aguirre qualified after Saturday's elimination round, turning Sunday's final into a sort of turn-back-the-clock-night at Buttermilk mountain (you half expected Chad Otterstrom, J.J. Thomas, and Tommy Czeschin to break out their Snurfers), conventional wisdom said that White's path to his seven billionth X Games title would be that much smoother.

So without further ado: ladies and gentlemen, your Winter X 11 men's pipe champion is ... drum roll, please ...

Steve Fisher?

You mean that guy who finished 20th in '05 and 13th last year? The guy you might have picked 15th in your pipe fantasy draft, despite him hauling gold in '04? The guy who was only added to last year's field the week before competition and made a quick exit from mainstream consciousness after his highest profile result (in part because he had the misfortune of laying down his best result on the cusp of the Shaun White Era)?

In fairness, while White's dominating performances and top shelf skills—along with a dose of ESPN celebrity-making magic—made him the icon he is; Fisher wasn't exactly holding up his end of the deal. Since his WX gold, the Breckenridge native hasn't found his way to many podiums. But the biggest cut was when Fisher didn't make the '06 Torino Olympic team. "That really kicked my ass into gear," he says. "I was slumming. I was behind in linking my tricks. There was pressure and disappointment—tons of emotions."

In a "what have you done for me lately?" action sports universe, Fisher was very aware that the buzz around him had gone from swarming bee-strong to perhaps a gnat or two. Hoping to find his groove again, Fisher headed to New Zealand last summer with pipe building guru and ex-rider Frank Wells. He worked through a sketchy sponsorship situation. Then, he "put in a ton of hard work, and finally it just clicked. I got back on the horse, as they say."

Still, he entered this year's competition with a chip on his shoulder. "It's definitely tough hearing the rumor mill. I was tired of all the talk and being brushed aside." When Fisher busted out a super-smooth, styled-out run in Saturday's elimination round that included a backside 540, frontside 1080, frontside and backside 9s—good enough for a 90.00 and a second spot on the qualifying ladder—he seemed more like a party crasher than contender—the guy you can use as your bathroom break between Aguirre in third (87.33) and White in first (93.33). On Sunday, he put that notion to rest. On his first of three runs, Fisher was huge. Frontside air, back 540, front 10, cab 7, front 9, back 9, front 7. Big style, long grabs. On the television broadcast, ESPN's Kris "Jaymo" Jamieson called it one of the best pipe runs ever thrown in competition. 92.00. And as it did in '04 for Fisher, the run stood up. "I didn't think it would happen," he said.

White gave it a shot in his second run, tossing in his customary big 1080s and major amplitude. But he clipped the deck halfway through, and it probably cost him the point he needed to grab gold. On his third and final attempt, another mid-pipe bobble cost him speed, and while there were more back-to-back 10s, he couldn't duplicate Fisher's overall execution.

That meant settling for silver—something White, and the X Games crowd, aren't used to doing. When the mega video screen at the base of the pipe posted the 88 on White's final run—good, but not good enough—the Aspen masses went numb. "Did they boo me?" Fisher later asked, only half-joking. Still, some things can't be changed by the color of a medal.

On the way to the hardware distribution ceremony, it was White who was mobbed by fans and defended by security guards as Fisher watched in amazement. At the media tent, it was White who got most of the attention. Even when superstars don't win, they're still superstars.

There's a lesson in here for everyone (including your esteemed hosts at EXPN.com). It seems the love needs be spread a little wider, contends Fish. "There are so many people here who are so good and so talented—such good people—and nobody cares. These are the best riders in the world."