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The X Games just wrapped up in Colorado, a weekend of extreme winter sports action - flying snowboarders, upside-down skiers. And now, some of those athletes are trading in their baggy pants and T-shirts for an Olympic uniform.
NPR's Robert Smith reports on how the X Games, more than ever, are changing what we'll see in Sochi for the Winter Games.
ROBERT SMITH, BYLINE: I don't know about you, but if I were about to compete in the Olympics, I would rest up a little. I certainly wouldn't spend the days before hurtling through the air on ESPN.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: He's a master on the rails. His jumps are solid. He's got a triple on the bottom we've seen.
SMITH: We're watching Nick Goepper ski down a sort of obstacle course in the snow. It's called slopestyle and it's the newest Olympic sport. But the X Games, they've been doing it for more than a decade. Goepper says he wasn't going to miss it.
NICK GOEPPER: This is one of best training tools that I use right before the Olympics. Because, I mean, you're going to see a lot of the same runs, a lot same styles that are going to happen at the Olympics. So it's kind of a good test event.
SMITH: The X Games is a competition designed and hyped by ESPN, beloved by teenagers and the sponsors who want to sell things to teenagers. Let's take that sport I just mentioned, slopestyle. It's basically the ski hill as re-imagined by a 12-year-old - all rails and jumps - the skier or snowboarder races down spending about half the time upside down or going backwards.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Oh, so far so good. Will he finish it with a triple? One, two and he's done it...
SMITH: On of the spectator, Lorenzo Semple, brought his kid out to see slopestyle at the X Games and says it is built for something inside the teenage mind.
LORENZO SEMPLE: Kids are like the Terminator when they are looking for terrain features and jumps. Anything basically to upset their parents. And this is just kind of like an extension of that on a much grander scale.
SMITH: Here's how I imagine it all goes down. One kid gets on a ski slope and tries something new - that kid breaks his leg. But the next kid pulls it off, maybe with a 360 and that kid is a hero. Then, years later, the sport they invent is at the X Games. And a years after that, the Olympics say: Hey, what is this new thing?
It happened with snowboarding. It happened with half pipe, now with slopestyle.
Tim Reed is the senior director of events for ESPN. And he has no problem with the Olympics imitating them.
TIM REED: It's a goal every year to...
SMITH: To what- make the Olympics pick up your sports?
REED: No. No. No...
REED: It's - well, it's nice when they do. It's, you know, kind of shows we're kind of pushing progression and doing things that, you know, kids and youth lifestyle youth lifestyle are into.
SMITH: But when a youth-lifestyle, punk-rock sport makes it to the Olympics some things inevitably change. Gus Kenworthy is a slopestyle skier.
GUS KENWORTHY: I definitely think that there are people that kind of even resent the Olympics because they think that it's changing the sport. The sport originally started because we didn't want rules. We wanted it to be free and have all this freedom, and be unique and creative and individualized. And I think that, yeah, the Olympics does take some of that out of the equation.
SMITH: Kenworthy says there were debates about who should run the sport and who makes the rules. But in the end, Kenworthy is excited for the Olympics and what it can do for his sport. Just look at what the exposure did for snowboarding.
KENWORTHY: Since then its really pushed the athletes. I mean, you've had snowboarders on "Dancing With The Stars," just the opportunity to kind of grow and be something more than just a skier or a snowboarder.
SMITH: The Olympics have adopted more than just sports from the X Games. They have learned from the whole X Games atmosphere. The DJ for the X Games blaring the rock music under every run...
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UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: (Singing) Feeling nice...
SMITH: ...he's been hired by Sochi to play the same soundtrack for the Olympics. Some of the announcers and the technical crews already have their tickets booked for Russia.
The Olpymics wants those young viewers that the X Games have energized. But it has drawn the line at the raw commercialism you see here in Aspen.
Spectator Lorenzo Semple says it does get on his nerves.
SEMPLE: You can see the priority is to get on TV, to hold up your skis, to show your sponsor, to hold the Monster energy drink can up in front of the camera.
SMITH: In the case of X Games champion Nick Goepper, it's actually a Red Bull. The name is emblazoned on his helmet. But he's going to have to take it off when he heads to the Olympics later on this week.
GOEPPER: It's kind of hard to, like, abide by all the guidelines. But...
SMITH: Because that's how you make your living.
GOEPPER: Yeah, exactly.
SMITH: But the hope is that the payoff comes when the whole world starts talking about your crazy new slopestyle sport.
Robert Smith, NPR News.
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