KRASNAYA POLYANA, RUSSIA — If the sudden elevation of snowboard slopestyle champions Sage Kotsenburg and Jamie Anderson is any indication of what could happen in Tuesday's halfpipe contest, expect to soon learn a lot more about Danny Davis.
He's the same free-spirited snowboarder who hasn't conformed to the technical spinning frenzy that has dominated the sport in recent years. He's old-school, sprinkling stylish and timeless tricks amid his technically corkscrewing airs. His backside 360 and his switch method — which seems to stall in midair, his back leg straight behind him 15 feet above the deck — are pretty rudimentary halfpipe tricks. But they earned him gold in the Aspen X Games halfpipe last month, his biggest-ever contest win.
The Olympic slopestyle judges who gave the gold to Kotsenburg and Anderson seem inclined to reward Davis' aesthetic approach. And they'll be marking the halfpipe riders Tuesday in one of the Games' showcase events.
Those judges elevated Kotsenburg's flat-spinning 1620 over the ridiculously difficult triple corks of other riders that coming into the Olympic debut of slopestyle were hailed as "the big move." The judges said otherwise, rewarding Anderson's huge 720s over other riders' solid 900s and 1080s.
Championing style over degree of difficulty bodes well for the Detroit-born Davis.
"It's definitely looking like it could be toward my style of riding," he said, noting that defending gold medalist Shaun White has a deep bag of stylish tricks as well.
It's all cool with Davis, he said, tucking his wild mane behind his ears as his girlfriend massaged his back. Lounging in sweat pants in a luxe hotel lobby a couple of hours before his final halfpipe practice session Monday, Davis appeared almost ambivalent about this whole Olympic gig.
He talked about "crushing pow" (skiing powder) in his first days in Russia. He laments missing the snowstorm that was pounding his home hill on the shores of Lake Tahoe. He also misses his friends back home.
"What a crazy contest this is, because a lot of our friends aren't here," he said. "I don't know a lot of these riders. For me, as long as the halfpipe is good and fun, I'll just put my music on and get lost in my music and ride and have a good time."
While he, like other riders, is concerned about the subpar condition of the Olympic halfpipe, Davis is not stressing about sculpting a run that impresses the judges. Anyone dining off Danny Davis' menu should know he doesn't do special orders.
"I will do my thing. I'm not going to pick it apart and be like, 'OK, I want to do this trick because I think the judges will like that there.' I didn't do that at X Games and I didn't do it at the Grand Prixes. I did what I felt like doing and that seems to be working."
That's an identical strategy as the one employed by snowboarding's new king, Kotsenburg, and queen, Anderson, both of whom eschewed pressure to amp up their backflips.
Davis virtually locked up a spot on the 2010 Winter Olympics halfpipe team when he surprisingly beat White. The loss pushed White into a private pipe at Silverton Mountain, where he developed the nuclear double-cork McTwist that has left him virtually untouchable. The victory pushed Davis a little too deep into the party scene. He drunkenly plowed a four-wheeler into a fence, breaking his back.
This time around, two years after breaking his femur, he rededicated himself to riding transitions. But it wasn't a private park, airbag push with personal trainers and a team of coaches. His approach was to ride every day. He didn't work on what he does in the air. He concentrated on finesse when his board is on the snow: pumping through the transitions, landing high on the halfpipe walls. It was a back-to-basics approach.
"I've gotten better at snowboarding in general," he said. "That's what this sport is about, teaching people that you've got to shred to get good. You don't need private training grounds. You don't need airbags. You need to spend as much time as possible on a snowboard."