John Teller used a daring maneuver to pass defending Skier X champion Chris Del Bosco late in Sunday's final and win a surprise gold medal by half a ski length. In doing so, Teller made sure one of the Winter X Games' strangest streaks lived a 14th year: no man has ever repeated as Skier X champion.
Teller, a Mammoth Lakes, Calif., racer who earlier this month became the first American to win a World Cup ski cross race, shot by Del Bosco high on a banked turn. Del Bosco had been the fastest skier all week -- he beat the field by a whopping two seconds in Thursday's qualifying -- and had jumped out to an early lead by claiming the coveted holeshot off the start.
"During my semifinal heat, I watched the whole run from behind Del Bosco, and I kind of planned out a couple spots that I might be able to pass him," said Teller, a 6-foot-2, 200-pound auto mechanic. "That was exactly what I was planning on doing, and it just happened. I was in autopilot; I wasn't even thinking."
"It's tough when you're out front," said Del Bosco, who overcame alcohol addiction to become the feel-good story of last year's Winter X Games. "You're just a sitting duck with the draft here. You want to try and get a quick start and get out front, obviously, but it's tough to block. You can't really do much. But that's how it goes sometimes."
Casey Puckett, a two-time Skier X champ and hometown hero in Aspen, came out of semi-retirement to take bronze. The Winter X Games race is the only one he's doing this year.
Teller, 27, used some of the experience he gained by making the Skier X final last year, where he learned to be patient on the flat course at Buttermilk.
"Nobody's unbeatable out here," he said. "[Del Bosco is] so far ahead of everybody else, but if you can get into his slipstream, he'll bring you along with him like a trailer. That's the cool thing about our sport."
This week's field was missing two of the best teams in the world because the Austrians and Swiss elected to attend a World Cup race in Germany. Canadian head coach Eric Archer blamed the International Ski Federation.
"It's a big bummer that FIS scheduled the World Cup this weekend," Archer said. "I don't care about TV, I just think it's disrespectful to the sport. Hopefully they'll fix that next year so we can have a full field."
Check full results here.