X Games take a turn for the better

Travis Pastrana's double back flip on a motorcycle will be the defining moment of X Games 12 -- a move rivaled only by Tony Hawk's 900-degree spin on a skateboard in 1999 as the defining moment in X Games history.

But the high-profile stunt was only one of several never-before-landed tricks during four days of competition that came to an end Sunday, and X Games 12 will surely go down as a turning point in the history of action sports.

That's because freestyle motocross riders must now figure out a way to top the double back flip. BMX riders must figure out how to better Kevin Robinson's historic double flair -- a double back flip with a 180-degree twist -- and skateboarders have been challenged to out-do Danny Way, who performed the first back flip on the big-air ramp and won the competition for the third consecutive year.

Those groundbreaking maneuvers were all performed at this year's X Games and dazzled crowds, which over four days numbered 138,672 at Staples Center and Home Depot Center, according to ESPN's figures. They also lighted up the eyes of the athletes, who get giddy when they're able to advance their sports and look forward to a fight with the laws of physics.

"There is absolutely no limit," Pastrana said. "It's just all about going out there and pushing. There are always people that want to be the best."

But surely, a triple back flip can't be possible, can it?

"When Carey Hart first did the back flip, everyone said, 'Ooooh, it's so dangerous,' " Pastrana said. "Now it's standard. If you don't do it, you get a deduction. Well, somewhere out there is a 10-year-old kid and by the time he's 20, double back flips are going to be second nature and he's going to want to do a triple."

It could take a while, according to X Games general manager Chris Stiepock, who recalled that there was a bit of a lull in the progression of skateboarding after Hawk landed his 900.

Shaun White, for the second consecutive year, spent the 30-minute best trick competition trying to better Hawk by landing a 1080, but after 29 tries last year and 21 this year, couldn't do it.

"There wasn't anyone chasing Tony's 900 until a few years later," Stiepock said. "I think you can draw that type of parallel to many of the groundbreaking moves."

But although motocross may have to wait for its next groundbreaking stunt, skateboarding and BMX could see rapid progression because of the advent of the big-air ramp. Way invented the 70-foot-tall ramp in 2002 and it became a part of the X Games in 2004.

Ramps of that size cost up to $500,000, and so the X Games was pretty much the only place to find one, but skateboarder Bob Burnquist of Vista is building one in his backyard. With a regular place to practice, the tricks will rise to a new level.

"Next year, it's going to be a whole 'nother world out there," Way said. "With the minimal amount of time we've had on the ramp, we're lucky to have progressed the tricks to the level we have progressed to. The next step, once you get the trick wired, is to progress the magnitude of it."

BMX riders took turns on the mega ramp this year for the first time. Before the X Games, only Chad Kagy had tried it, during an exhibition in May. After Robinson won the event, he praised it as "the future" of BMX.

"I have that new, exciting feeling again like I did when I first started riding," he said. "I think we can step it up 10 times what we did today. Once we have some time on this ramp, it'll open all kinds of doors."

The mega ramp, Stiepock said, is an important part of the future of the X Games.

"We've only seen the beginning of what can be done on that ramp," Stiepock said. "It's a very important part of the progression of those sports and the X Games. And now they'll have a place to train year round, so it will only get bigger and better."

Getting bigger and better is not easy, however. After Pastrana's double back flip, motocross riders trying to keep pace pushed the limits during the freestyle competition, leading to four spectacular crashes that knocked the riders out of the competition.

In the BMX park, two-time defending champion Dave Mirra and Ryan Nyquist, the 2002 and '03 champions, were injured during practice and had to sit out the competition.

"Progression comes with a price," Pastrana said. "But it's worth every minute of it."

Perhaps the biggest step forward during this year's games came before the games even started. On the eve of X Games 12, a group of female skateboarders struck a victory for gender equality when they secured a meeting with ESPN executive vice president John Skipper and negotiated increased prize money and television exposure for their events.

Instead of the planned $5,000, $2,500 and $1,500 checks for first, second and third, female skateboarders earned $15,000, $10,000 and $5,000. And after four consecutive years of no television time, women's skateboarding will get exposure at next year's games.

"I think it just changes everyone's perspective," said skater Cara-Beth Burnside, the head of the Action Sports Alliance, the group that lobbied for the changes. "It's great just to feel like you're really a part of the thing, not just a little demo show. We can be proud about this."

X Games 12 brought us 11-year-old Nyjah Huston, the youngest athlete ever to compete in the games,

and Newport Beach's Jeff Ward, who, at 45, became the oldest gold medalist when he won the Moto X supermoto event.

It will be remembered as Pastrana's games -- he added gold medals in rally car and Moto X freestyle to the Moto X best trick gold he won for his double back flip and joined Mirra as the only athletes in the history of the games to win three events in one year. However, skateboarder Sandro Dias and Robinson, the BMX rider, will remember it because each won his first gold medal in otherwise illustrious X Games careers.

Big tricks and big crashes, however, are the staples of the X Games, and the athletes see it only getting bigger.

"A 100-foot ramp?" said Way, asked to ponder a bigger mega ramp. "There's no question that's coming. Give me the budget and I'll build it right now."

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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