Last night, Shaun White won his seventh ESPY award, his sixth for Best Action Sport Athlete. The ESPYs is an annual award ceremony that recognizes excellence in sports performance, and winning a category is generally considered to be a sports achievement of its own.
The thing is, the word "annual" means the ESPYs are supposed to recognize feats that have been accomplished in the past year. No disrespect to White, but people must have had some flowing red locks obscuring their vision when they looked at the action sports category. Yeah, White won two medals in two separate sports at the X Games, and one of them was a first-ever four-peat in Winter X SuperPipe. And yeah, it's cool that he can ride a wood board with wheels in a pipe made out of Skatelite just as well as he can ride a laminated board in a pipe made out of snow. He's a serious double threat. We get it.
But Kelly Slater, who was also nominated for Best Action Sport Athlete, won his tenth world title in surfing this year. Nobody has ever done that. And considering that it took Slater 18 years to pull this feat off, the chances are, nobody will ever do it again. This is no time for sports partisanship. Slater was robbed. And since the ESPYs are determined entirely by fan vote, he was robbed by us.
Unlike an X Games medal, a world title in surfing is not a singular win -- it is the result of winning multiple contests in a tour that lasts several months and stops in locations across the world. No other action sport has an equivalent of this tour, or Slater's achievement. It is a really big deal.
Slater's win this year makes him both the oldest (38) and youngest (20) person to win the world title. The man has been a force in the water for two decades, leaving his mark on two generations of surfers. With 45 Elite Tour wins, two X Games golds, induction into the Surfing Hall of Fame, 14 Surfer Poll awards and the Laureus World Action Sportsperson of the Year award, it's not like Slater hasn't been recognized for his achievements before. He even received a high-five from the U.S. House of Representatives when they passed a (unanimous) bipartisan resolution in May 2010, recognizing his unprecedented achievements in surfing and for being a role model.
There's no surfing in the Olympics, though, so perhaps Slater's stellar accomplishment only resonates near the ocean.
There is no denying White's impact on snowboarding and skateboarding, and on action sports as a whole. He's been sponsored since he was seven and has handily won almost every competition and award that matters at least once. Last year's ESPYs for Best Male U.S. Olympic Athlete and Best Male Action Sports Athlete were well-earned. It's impossible, really, to emphasize enough just how bad the halfpipe was at the 2010 Olympics, and how White's ability to perform at such a high level crushed any doubt that anyone might have ever had about him being the best pipe rider in the world. His run was devastatingly good.
But, again, that was last year's ESPYs achievement. Just sayin'…
The women's side of the Best Action Sports Athlete category was a little tighter of a race.
The other Kelly -- snowboarder Kelly Clark -- had an incredible season, winning almost every major competition she entered, putting her in serious Shaun White territory, results-wise. She became the first woman to stomp a 1080 in competition (at Winter X) and, as she likes to say, she wants her ceiling to be the next generation's floor.
But the award winner, Stephanie Gilmore, has dominated the Women's World Tour in surfing for the last five years, owning the world title in four of them. Gilmore definitively ended the Layne Beachley era with her first title and last year held off young stars Carissa Moore and Sally Fitzgibbons en route to her fourth consecutive trophy. It's unlikely that voters weren't affected by the coda to her last title, a path that involved a horrible assault that Gilmore suffered just after last year's tour ended, which kept her out of the water several months this year and has derailed a title defense. Still, it was a fair matchup, and Clark's ESPY was deserved.
The pride of Scandinavia, Torstein Horgmo, was also in the ESPY mix for "Best Play" but was voted off in an early round. This is a guy who broke first ground on the triple cork, which is an entirely new trick in snowboarding, and then went on to win Winter X Big Air with a triple backflip and a broken rib. Worthy of a mention, yeah? Gnarway!