- Alyssa Roenigk, ESPN The Magazine senior writer
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[Ed.'s Note: The Action Sports Report is a weekly blog that covers sports from skateboarding to snowboarding to FMX.]
On a special Tuesday edition of NASCAR Now, ESPN announced the participants in its 2009 celebrity Stock Car Challenge. What is The Challenge and what does it have to do with action sports? Well … it's a fantasy NASCAR league populated by former drivers, team owners, ESPN analysts and avid NASCAR fans. The fans? John Cena, Philadelphia Flyers center Jeff Carter and freestyle skier Kristi Leskinen, the only female in the field of eight.
Just two days after watching her hometown team, the Pittsburgh Steelers, clinch their sixth Super Bowl title, Leskinen appeared on the kickoff show to explain her picks to analyst and Challenge competitor Dale Jarrett.
"I've never done a live studio feed, so I think I was all over the place," Leskinen says. "You sit in a black room with a camera on you, and you can't see anything. I was trying to remember to look in the right place, smile and pay attention to what Dale was saying in my earpiece. At one point, I heard him say, 'Well, Kristi, what do you think?' I had no idea what he was talking about at the time, so I said, 'I think I'm going to win!'"
Not a bad answer, considering her team has a shot. During the draft earlier in the week, Leskinen picked up Carl Edwards ("Two winters ago, I had the chance to take Carl skiing for his first time in Aspen, Colo. By the end of the day, he was trying 360s. Anyone with that much determination and athleticism can take it all."), Kyle Busch ("He's just plain good."), Mark Martin ("He's coming out of part-time retirement and is driving a Hendrick car. That's the best team with the best drivers in NASCAR. He's on the rise and I think he's going to have a great season."), Brian Vickers ("He's in his third year with the same team [Red Bull Racing]. I think his team is finally going to get their act together.") and A.J. Allmendinger ("We have a $100 million salary cap and I only had 70 points left. He was the next guy on the list.").
Leskinen and Co. kick off their season next weekend with the 51st annual Daytona 500. Follow Kristi and her team throughout the season here. —A.R.
Bad cell phone reception is just a way of life for snowboarders. Spending tons of time in the mountains will do that. Despite some shaky coverage we caught up with boardercrosser Nate Holland, the Michael Phelps of the snow (because of the gold medals, not anything else), who last month became the first Winter X athlete ever to win four straight gold medals. So how long does a guy bask in the glow of a career high? If you're Holland not long. The very next week he took first overall at the opener of the 2009 U.S. Snowboard Grand Prix series in Truckee, CA. After some fits and stops—pesky cell phones—we got boardercross' most decorated athlete on the phone to talk about going down a mountain really fast. —C.P.
MAG.COM: So what's it like to be Mr. Fourpeat?
HOLLAND: Going into the race I was feeling so much pressure from everyone, the media, the fans. Everybody wanted to see if I could do it. In my hometown of Sands Point, Idaho, 300 people gathered at a bar for the race so I was definitely feeling it. But I felt strong and pulled it off. It kind of baffles me how I'm able to win year after year.
How do you train? How does one get better at boardercross?
There aren't a lot of tracks at ski resorts so I end up doing a ton of freeriding. It definitely improves your air awareness skills, which are key. After you get done doing big mountain and you get on a boardercross course everything looks easy. There's also cardio involved. I pretty much ride a mountain bike in the off-season and do a little bit of weights for strength. Riding motocross is great for helping you spot lines and quickly adapt to what's in front of you so you can improve your reaction time. The skills transfer really well.
Where do you keep your four golds?
They're in my office at my house. I dust them off every now and then. The great thing is that during any kind of negotiations they definitely help you up the price.
Boardercross is a growing sport but isn't on par with freestyle in terms of popularity. What gives?
I'm not really sure. The snowboard industry really doesn't treat the racing side that well. It's the race mentality and the look, racers where tighter pants as opposed to baggy and it's just not as marketable. The general public loves it though. They can relate more to a race where the fastest guy wins. When they watch a freestyle run they have no idea what the announcer is talking about. A Danny Kass run looks the same as a Shaun White run to them so they don't know why one guy won and the other didn't.
Was becoming a snowboarder always part of the plan?
I've been doing it since I was 11 so it's always been something I loved. But I played football in high school because it was fun getting out there and hitting guys.
Were you any good?
I wasn't bad. I played strong safety and we had a pretty good team. During my senior year the week before the Idaho state playoffs my friends and me built a jump and I was hitting the kicker and ended up straining the MCL in my knee. I came in limping Monday morning and my coach was pissed. He thought I put the team in jeopardy and that I had let everyone down. My coach pretty much thought that I should give up snowboarding for good since it wasn't ever going to get me anywhere. We ended up winning the game but my coach never forgot it.
Sounds like a coach all right.
A couple years ago I went to my 10-year high school reunion and my coach was there and brought up the incident. He said he was proud of me for sticking with snowboarding and making the Olympics. He follows my career now, which I think is pretty cool.
1dMarc Stein and Ramona Shelburne