By Peter Mertz
ASPEN, the United States, Jan. 31 (Xinhua) -- First it was halfpipe, then big air, then slopestyle. In 2019, Knuckle Huck is added to the X-Game Olympic entrees.
This week at the 2019 X Games in Aspen in the state of Colorado, the renegade snowboard elite officially showcased the fourth event and it will soon be introduced to Winter Olympic competition.
Called "Knuckle Huck," the 24th annual X-Games officially christened a new event - and awarded a gold medal to Norway's Fridtjof Saether Tishendorf.
"It represents creative, relate-ability snowboarding, something everyone can enjoy, accessible at all mountains, and uses creativity and imagination, and sets limits," the Oslo native, nicknamed "Fridje," told Xinhua.
For years, snowboarders have been launching jumps off "the sides" of slopeside trick ramps - shaped like the knuckles of a human fist. These daredevils already had mastered the 'normal' way to approach the ramps, so they were out having some fun - using the "knuckle" differently - but also "hucking" - performing extremely creative and challenging stunts.
What was always daily, routine fun for the riders has evolved into a bona fide medal event - but with loose parameters.
"Little poppers - a time to be creative, go crazy, do stylish stuff," said Canadian Sebastien Toutant, the 2018 Olympic big air gold medalist. "Anybody can do it, anywhere, anytime."
One of the first to gain recognition for these box-breaking moves was another Norwegian - Marcus Kleveland - the first ever to complete a quad cork 1800 in competition, and the 2017 Winter X Games gold medalist in slopestyle and silver medalist in big air.
Tragically, one month ago, his Knuckle Huck creation went viral, Kleveland shattered his kneecap in a practice run after slamming into a steel rail. Last week, in keeping with the selfless nature of the sport, each of the 10 riders in the Knuckle Huck finals mentioned Kleveland, including fellow Norwegian Fridje.
"Marcus would have definitely won gold if he was here," Fridje said modestly. "I am proud to carry the Norwegian tradition in his honor."
KNUCKLE HUCK FINALS
Last Saturday, as the sun set over America's Rocky Mountains, the group of 10 riders stood clustered at the top of the "Big Air" acceleration chute, ready for the Knuckle Huck finals.
The -13 degree centigrade air didn't chill the excitement felt in the group as they stomped their boards and waited to begin. Below a large gathering of fans gathered to watch the inaugural finale.
The day before, these daredevils hit speeds of 84 km/h, sailing off the big air launch ramp for some 27 meters before dropping to the mountainside slope far below.
But this "loose jam" session would be different. At first, one-by-one, each rider flew down the chute, but swerved away from the launch ramp at the last second. Curling back around, each propelled off the side of the down ramp, a prominent knuckle the size of a school bus.
With music blasting below and above, the 10 finalists - from Finland, Sweden, Norway, Canada, and the U.S. - each took five runs -showcasing unique, extemporaneous, highly-challenging stunts.
Some riders unexpectedly launched down the ramp, without waiting for the next rider to finish. Nobody collided, nobody cared. The rules were blurred.
As Mons Roisland launched from the knuckle, he suddenly did a backwards somersault, sliding across the hard-packed snow, before artfully regaining his feet.
"Knuckles are unexpected because people do them all the time - but when people come off and do cool tricks - everyone's mind gets just blown because it's so new, so fresh," Roisland said later.
Fridje had a different take - launching into the air, flipping upside down and backwards, while dragging his hand on the ground and sailing some 60 feet through the air before a perfect landing.
As the Knuckle Huckers came cascading down, cries of awe echoed through the mountains from the thousands below.
"Equal or better than Shaun White's fan reactions," said spectator Laura McGraw, referring to X Game fans' adoration of the legendary snowboarder, who won 18 X Game medals and three Olympic golds.
"We had no idea what to expect," onlooker Sharon Gilbert said. "Some guys rolled off the slope before catching air, unbelievable."
As the 20-minute free-for-all ended, the riders clustered together at the bottom, laughing, hugging, and fist bumping. Suddenly, officials announced that Fridtjof Saether Tishendorf had won the event.
Fridje seemed more surprised than anyone by the announcement, first visibly stunned, then laughing uncontrollably, as he finally realized that he had just made sports history.
"I think the last run was the deal breaker," the 21-year-old said. "It was long, I ripped back, flipped 360, the biggest I've ever done, the air time was flowing," Fridje said.
Fridje's knighting was the perfect end to a debut event that defines excellence achieved by snowboarders, according to other snowboarders.
These young men say that the medals do not matter. What matters is the unique path you carved to get there, the talent you befriended on the way, and your personal pursuit of excellence as defined by unrestrained, creative output - given freely to your competitors - as an exaltation of the sport itself.