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"Whatever questions people might have had in their minds about the Olympic judges not knowing what to make of these new tricks were really resolved this summer," says Mike Jankowski, head halfpipe coach for the U.S. Snowboarding team. "The double corks were tested at the New Zealand Open and, more importantly, at the FIS World Cup. I say more importantly because those are the Olympic judges, and they rewarded Shaun's double corks: He won the contest by a long shot. So they've seen it, and they've made their statement. It's going to be very challenging to get on the U.S. Olympic team without a double cork, and it's going to be even more challenging to win a medal in Vancouver."
Fisher would already have a spot if the U.S. Olympic team chose its members based on the previous year's standings — but even six months is a long time in snowboarding. There's a growing consensus among Fisher's coaches and fellow riders that the double cork is a game-changer. Now, to make the Olympic team, Fisher will either have to start doing double corks — or hope that everyone else crashes out on them. After all his work over the last four years, he's now in danger of watching history pass him by again.
But just before Thanksgiving, without a decent halfpipe open anywhere in the United States, Fisher is still thinking he might get by without the new tricks. "I've been actively boycotting the double cork because I think it's gimmicky, and I haven't seen one yet that looks great," he says between pickup games on the basketball court at the Cherry Creek Athletic Club. "Everyone's straight-up 1080s are just starting to get to the point where they look great after a few years, but the double corks are a total huckfest at this point. Sure, Shaun and some others can land them, but personally I think they look terrible, and I'm not convinced you need one to make the team or impress the judges."
The last time Fisher was in a halfpipe was in July, at Mount Hood. "I'm really happy with where my riding was at the end of last season and this summer," he says, holding his own against the lunchtime workout crowd, "and I'm just going to try and stay on that plane and have a lot of fun riding, doing what works for me."
In the lead-up to the first Grand Prix event, nearly every top pro in the United States — and some from Canada, Australia and Japan — has set up residence in Summit County to train in the first Olympic-sized halfpipe of the season. Within a few days of the pipe's opening at Copper Mountain in late November, it's seeing Olympic-sized airs during casual warm-up sessions.
"I think the level is obviously going to be through the roof," says Jankowski, surveying the scene from the top of the pipe. "There are tricks going on here that people have never seen before, that have never been done in competition. As the Grand Prix unfolds, I think we're going to see huge progression from one event to the next. To make the team, you're going to have to demonstrate complete mastery of the pipe and show that you have the ability to spin all different directions: alley-oop, frontside, backside, switch backside.... It's going to take double corks, 1080s, 1260s, just going huge, stomping everything clean, the whole package. Everyone's gunning for those four spots, and there's going to be some really tough competition."
On his first day in the pipe, Fisher watches White effortlessly floating double-cork variations, frontside and backside, and realizes that he has some serious thinking to do. Teammates Bretz, Vito and Lago all have variations on the double cork now, as do Kevin Pearce, Danny Davis and Danny Kass. Just about everyone else with Olympic ambitions is trying to learn the double cork as quickly as possible.
By his second day on the mountain, after sizing up the competition and under pressure from his coaches, Fisher admits he's hoping to have the trick before the Grand Prix series is over. "I'll see how this first contest plays out without it, but it's definitely something I want to learn as part of the progression of snowboarding," he says. "I can see now that this is part of where it's all headed, and I definitely want to get a piece of it. I want to have it perfected before I'm putting it in competition runs, though, and not just be out there hucking-and-hoping, like a lot of guys I'm seeing out there."
In the meantime, Fisher's hoping that his switch backside spins and other difficult tricks will help make up some of the difference. But he's also been jumping on the trampolines at the new Woodward at Copper training facility, trying to build up confidence to attempt a double cork in the pipe.
Whatever advantage White may have had with his private pipe in the Silverton backcountry is dissipating now that other riders have access to similar facilities. After morning sessions in the Copper superpipe, coaches Jankowski and Bower have been taking their team across the street to Woodward's big red barn to work out over the foam pits and trampolines.