As a big fan of the X games, I had to get down to San Diego for the Moto X World Championships and see what it was all about. The stage was set to host the inaugural event and I made sure to get there early and take in all the sights and sounds. I’ve watched the X games grow over the years from a seemingly home spun affair to the international behemoth that for some takes precedence over traditional sporting events. The games take on an air of grandeur and spectacle. Gnarled skaters and “Extreme athletes” are well known for their fearless attitude and displays of human agility.
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The Moto X World championships were no exception. They delivered thrilling leaps, spills that left riders eerily still on the ground before getting up and racing action that got you out of your seat while pitting the world’s best riders against each other for all to see.
The competition itself was a mix of competition and camaraderie, the biggest showing was by the Metal Mulisha, most of whom are San Diego area natives. Their presence was felt all over the stadium. Right when you entered the parking lot, the first thing you noticed were the trailers and pop up tents advertising all the different sponsors and riding teams in attendance. One of the biggest, and closest to the stadium was the Metal Mulisha booth and it also drew the largest crowd. Other sponsors included West Coast Customs and DUB Auto, who were in attendance with some awesome rides, one in particular owned by Travis Barker (of SD native Blink 182) was especially appropriate for the event.
Also in the vendor area, kids were treated to mini dirt bike and BMX tracks. The kids did their best to score the best time, the winner taking home a custom X Games bicycle. I saw a couple of runs, and the kids really did their best. A couple even fell while going around, and I admired the way they picked up their bikes and kept pedaling, just like their favorite dirt biker would.
Once inside the seating area it was obvious that Qualcomm Stadium was transformed. Instead of the pristine and pruned field that hosts Chargers football games, into a maze of monstrous, earthen ramps. It was a surreal experience to walk into that atmosphere down on the field level. It was about 8:30 am, warm up and practice time for the athletes and a chance to work out any bugs on the dirt bikes. There were bikes flying through the air, clearing 50 foot gaps at top speed and landing smoothly on the other side. The jumbotron mentioned there were 750 truckloads of dirt brought in to cover the floor of the stadium, and it showed.
The first day’s highlight had to go to the double backflip. Scott Murray took the gold for Best Trick with it, and it was one of those stunts that made me catch my breath to see, bike and rider both spinning twice, in a head over heels spin that left no room for error. It was definitely worthy of the gold helmet, and a real crowd pleaser.
On day two, Ricky Carmichael was the real crowd pleaser. Carmichael, who is known as the G.O.A.T. (greatest of all time) had never formally competed in a step up competition. This is the high jump competition, only this time the riders were complaining about a rock hard landing surface. Dry clay with pebbles or “marbles” scattered throughout evidently does not absorb impact all that well. Carmichael and company worked the bar up to an absurd 35 feet. The look of the high bar, swaying in the breeze, up at 35 feet sent chills down my spine.
When Carmichael’s turn came to try the height, he gassed his bike up the nearly vertical ramp, and shot up and over the bar, easily clearing it and nudging his bike to get ready to land. For a second it appears he’s suspended midair, then his bike starts its descent. Braced for the hard landing, his bike slams into the ramp, and Carmichael's chin slams into the handlebars in turn. He loses control of the bike and after a few minutes there’s a shot of him up on the jumbotron, sporting a bleeding wound on the left side of his face. He’s smiling but he’s knocked out of competition and he doesn’t get credit for the jump, as he lost control. In the end the Step up competition was won after a double sudden death between 2006 X Games gold medalist, Matt Buyten and three-time X Games medalist, Ronnie Renner. Buyten won a coin toss, and the ramp adjusted for more speed, and his clearing it earned him the gold.
The thrills didn’t stop there, as the Racing final was up next. Broc Hepler took the win, earning himself a first place gold helmet, and top honors in the first event of it’s kind. The riders raced around the seemingly impossible course at breakneck speeds, and even though the boy wonder Travis Pastrana put up a good fight and gave the pack a run for their money, he came up short against the seasoned pros on the track and had to settle for fifth place.
The final event was the freestyle final, a chance for the riders to take 90 second runs, however they pleased, and try to rack up as many points as possible. The key factor was precision in landing and trick execution as well as creativity, and keeping the tricks varied. If a rider hits the same trick more than once, its value is lessened so the riders were sure to keep the fans interested by turning out every trick in the book. A backflip is no longer good enough to take top honors anymore, the riders, realizing this, are busting tricks upside down that used to win competitions in early days of freestyle. Nate Adams took top honors with a run that included a superman seat grab flip over a 115-foot gap, and landing every trick nearly flawlessly.
All in all, the event showed ESPN’s prowess at making an extreme statement in sports that are already death defying and showed how dirt bikers have so far surpassed the groundwork laid out by the pioneers of their sport, that these same pioneers would barely recognize the sport as their own. It was a couple of the best days of dirt biking in recent memory and a huge advancement for the whole genre of Extreme Sports. It was the first time ever that six disciplines of dirt bike racing had ever been brought to the world stage, and as Matt Buyten put it, “This event was huge for the whole sport of motocross to come together. This weekend has been great."