Jesper underscores two crises happening in freestyle skiing today. The first is nobody's fault, and a consequence of a maturing sport: Initially, freestyle skiing began as a spectacle where skiers would huck themselves into the air, throw a misty 720 with a 50/50 chance of landing it, and call it a day. Xgames announcers would hyper-react with, "Wow! This guy is insane! He's making history and inventing new tricks!"
Fast-foward 20 years... The competitors today aren't just hucking things on a whim like in the past. These athletes have spent their entire lives training for the sport. Freestyle skiing has become increasingly about precision, much like gymnastics. As athletes approach the physical limitations of what is possible for rotations and flips, "world firsts" become less frequent, and the sport shifts towards a nuanced refinement. This is the pinnacle of sport and the end-product of innovation. Judged sports typically reward those who approach these limits of physical ability. A quad cork 1980 is much closer to the limits of how fast the body can rotate than a double frontflip, and will be scored higher, regardless of how floaty and pretty the double front was. The majority of what can be done has been done and in the coming years we can expect only iterative progressions. It's not as exciting as the early spectacle, but this precision is a different and more intellectual type of excitement for the audience. The problem is, ESPN deliberately obfuscates how they actually score the sport.
And this leads to crisis #2: Xgames clings to their founding formula of serving up over-hyped spectacle. Regardless of how premeditated and methodical the athlete's run, they sputter off a moronic drivel of "amplitude", "massive", "insane", "huge", "my mind is blown". A triple cork with two grabs is the result of a lifetime of sacrifice, injury, and hard work, but Xgames announcers won’t hesitate to undermine all of this and explain it as “mashing all the buttons”. Perhaps someone told these PT Barnum-wannabe announcers that their sole directive is to over-hype the audience and convince them what they just saw was amazing, rather than letting the sport generate its own excitement. More often than not, they seem to be crafting their own narrative that is entirely disconnected from what is happening on screen. At minimum, they should be attempting to break down how the sport is judged methodically so the audience can understand the competition. Instead, Xgames has obfuscated scoring, totally doing away with run scores, instilling a vague "jam session format" with a running clock that pauses as often as needed to fill the 60-minute broadcast window, and awarding medals based on "overall impression" so there is no need for judges to be held accountable.
Then comes Jesper - the innovator extraordinaire - bringing all of this to the forefront. He hucks crazy shit with seemingly reckless abandon. It is exciting, just like back in the beginning. Based on excitement and novelty, which seems to be the litmus for Xgames, he SHOULD be winning competitions. He is progressing the sport, but the sport doesn't seem to be rewarding his progression. This is where a competent announcer might help guide the audience towards appreciating the sport.
Passionate audiences, including the author of this article, have been following his narrative for a long time. In our minds, he has reigned as of the sport's most talented athletes. The Xgames judges and announcers are busy crafting their own narratives around marketable characters and storylines. For me, knuckle huck 2020 was the pinnacle of this — a sport that was supposed to be an opportunity for new innovation, Jesper was on fire with incredible new tricks, and loses “overall impression” to an athlete who had fallen in previous runs(!). Jesper's career of innovation and fearlessness would have been a boon for Xgames to celebrate. They use his clips on every promo segment. But, for whatever reason they overlook him when it comes time to hand out medals. It is both blatant and unfortunate - for Jesper and the sport as a whole.
I couldn't resist commenting on the Youtube video:
Can't help feeling like games judges are trying to manufacture excitement: ...and on his last run Alex Hall comes in clutch sticking the single biggest trick of the night, bumping him from 4th to 1st! Meanwhile, literally every viewer is following a different story line: mesmerized by Jesper's creativity, variety, and execution. Never mind that the inept cameraman can't keep him in frame, he was in the zone this night and captivating to watch. What truly was an organic, iconic, and memorable moment for a fledgling xgames sport is reduced to yet another time when Jesper was robbed; yet another time the judges tried to play wizard of oz and fabricate excitement for ratings.
Isn't this event scored on overall impression anyway? My "overall impression" of the judges: pitiful
Freestyle skiing needs a fair, clearly articulated judging criteria that weights innovation and precision in a way that rewards athletes like Jesper. If short skis are a reason to dock points, make it dogma. Communicate these standards. Rather than degrading the integrity of the sport, better to give freestyle skiing the respect it deserves by celebrating athletic achievement.
Most of this is caused and perpetuated by ESPN. They could certainly address it, but no doubt there is a board of inept middle-management MBA drones somewhere at ESPN who have sat around and circle jerked to the thought of having refined their model for monetizing Xgames and capturing their target audience to maximize ad revenue. To them, they’ve figured out the formula for printing money and they’ll optimize it to the ground. The sport and its athletes are merely a vector for this. Long gone are the free-thinking innovators who first dreamt up the Xgames 25+ years ago and took a chance on something new. Jesper is of this innovator ilk too. No doubt, the founders of Xgames are watching him in adornment, feeling the same way we are.
Keep up the great work Jesper. Fuck the lack of institutional gratification. At this point it wouldn't even matter. I hope you know that there are a lot of us out there who understand and love what you are doing.