An alternative look at sports
On the first football-free Sunday of the year, alternative sports took center stage.
With the Super Bowl less than a week away, the sports media is a buzz about the Pittsburgh Steelers and Arizona Cardinals. While Ben Roethlisberger and the Kurt Warner are the center of attention now, several different athletes grabbed the spotlight last weekend, including snowboarding's Shaun White and figure skating's Alissa Czisny.
Even with the Australian Open going on, it was the U.S. Figure Skating Championships that made the front page. It was a weekend for the oft forgotten sport to take the lead. Many American's were either introduced to or rediscovered the sport with NBC's primetime coverage on both Saturday and Sunday.
Changing from the elegant to the extreme, it was also the weekend action sports waits for all year long. The X-Games, winter sports' World Series, dominated ESPN, ESPN 2 and ABC for four days. The contest had everything from snowmobiles to mono-ski's racing and flying down Buttermilk Mountain in Colorado.
The stars of the weekend were California's Shaun White taking the Snowboard Slopestyle and Superpipe gold medals in the X-Games and Michigan's Alissa Czisny winning the Figure Skating Championship. Both of these athletes and their tremendous accomplishments deserve a place next to the Manny Ramirez's and Lebron James' of the world. Not only that, but their sports also deserve a place next to football, basketball and baseball.
Last year's Winter X-Games XII boasted the best television ratings in X-Games history and they are expected to be higher this year. It is really no question why they are enjoyable to watch with these athletes literally defying gravity. 1080s on snowboards and double back flips on snowmobiles are just some of the usual or rather unusual tricks on display.
On the more ethereal side, figure skaters show just as much athleticism if not more than other athletes with their triple axels and layback spins. It's hard enough to do a 1260, three and a half rotations, off a 50 foot ramp at freeway speeds, but imagine doing it on inch thick blades jumping off the ice. The triple axel is a move in the repertoire of every Olympic figure skater and something the normal person, let alone athlete, couldn't ever dream of doing.
It begs the question as to why these sports can never seem to compete with the likes of NASCAR and the National Football League. Both figure skating and action sports require just as much if not more athletic ability as an NFL quarterback. While the two types of sports don't require the exact same skill set, they both require the basics. All of the sports in question require agility, lower body strength and the ability to absorb bone-crushing hits.
Even with the same basic skills though, it's hard to believe an MLB shortstop could do a triple axel while it could be said a figure skater could most likely catch a baseball and run the bases. While the skater might not be able to do it well, they could at least do it. It also doesn't seem fathomable that a NASCAR driver could race on skis while a skier could at least make it around the track.
It's obvious that the X-Games and Figure Skating Championships are never going to surpass a good NFL game but they deserve just as much respect if not more. It's not to say that athletes in traditional sports aren't athletic but rather that they do not show the all-around athleticism some skaters and snowboarders do.
While figure skating and action sports have never had the same following as basketball or baseball it is no reason to punish the athletes. Czisny's triple axel and Shaun White's 1080 deserves a spot at the top of the ESPN SportsCenter's Top 10 just as much as Willie Parker's touchdown run. It's a shame that the weekend is over, since it may be the last time we hear from these athletes this year.
Here's hoping you watched at least a part of last weekend's festivities because if not, you truly missed some of the most talented athletes on the planet.
You can reach this columnist at firstname.lastname@example.org.