USA TODAY - When the Winter X Games begin in Aspen on Thursday, U.S. snowboarder Arielle Gold will be practicing her frontside and cab 900s on the halfpipe, but she won't be competing. As the first alternate, Gold will only be called on if another competitor pulls out of the event or gets injured.
Still, at 16, she's thrilled for the opportunity. "It's amazing" Gold told USA TODAY Sports Tuesday. "I've been watching X Games for years. I've heard there's so many good vibes at the whole base of the mountain and that it's the best halfpipe in the world, which is going to be really fun to ride. And just getting to ride with those super talented riders is super exciting for me."
What Gold didn't mention is this: She's one of those super talented riders herself. Appropriately named, she won gold in the women's halfpipe at the FIS Snowboard World Championships on Sunday in Stoneham, Quebec. She became the second youngest athlete, men or women, to win the title. (The youngest was China's Liu Jiayu in 2009.)
"I was just completely in shock. It didn't set in until later that day. I did not expect it at all," Gold said.
Still, much is expected of Gold, who could be one of the USA's top young stars next year at the Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Last season Gold was the silver medalist in slopestyle and halfpipe at the Youth Olympic Games. She also took the halfpipe gold at the FIS Junior World Championships.
Even though she has competed in both events, Gold isn't thinking about pulling a Shaun White and going for pipe and slope.
"I have always enjoyed pipe more, so I'm pretty behind the game when it comes to slopestyle," she said. "The way I see it, if you want to be the best you want to pick one because there's always going to be people that are training in just one. I think it's too much to put on your plate to try to be the best at both. ... Shaun is amazing. He's a super human."
Gold's parents try to make as many U.S. competitions as possible, though her mother, worried about her safety, covers her eyes during her daughter's runs. Of course, that rush of danger is what drives Gold to try new tricks and to work on increasing her amplitude.
"There is definitely the fear aspect but that's what I like most about the sport," she said. "Just before I try a new trick there's so much adrenaline pumping. It's pretty scary when you first jump in, but once you land that trick or try it for the first time, it's a pretty amazing feeling."
In the offseason, she slows it down - slightly. Gold spends most of her time home in Steamboat Springs, Colo., with her two horses, Sparky and Bugs. She'll take the horses on a trail ride or she'll practice jumping with them. Though horse jumping can be dangerous, when you fly as high and spin as quickly on a board as Gold does, it's all relative.
"I have some friends that only ride horses and they are a bit more intimidated," Gold said. "To them it is a high risk sport, but when it comes to snowboarding for me, horseback riding seems mellow."
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