I cruise pinkbike.com sometimes to get a look at what could have been. Back in 1996/97 when I was big into junior racing in Colorado, I'd go the big state races, the CORPS series, and race cross-country and downhill on my Cannondale F-1000 which looked a little like this:
I would never have put bar-ends like that on my bike. Just need to make that clear. I also flipped the stem which, I realize now, was far too long.
Anyway, I'd do these CORPS downhill races and race against guys on 4-5 inch travel bikes. The technology on those bikes wasn't great and the courses were still rideable on a hardtail, so I usually did pretty well. I was also doing really well in the local dual-slalom series, as long as the jumps weren't too big. There was a time when I was trying to scrape together enough money for a downhill bike, and I think there's a good chance if I had, I would have made something of myself. Maybe I'd be one of these dudes on Tim Lake's Showreel: