He Makes a Living Just Riding a Bike

Times Staff Writer

Mike Metzger has been flying around on his motocross bike long enough to know that the LG Action Sports Championships at the Fairplex in Pomona are something special.

The event, which begins today with inline skating street course racing and runs through Nov. 23, will feature world championships in four sports and winning purses 15% larger than that of the X Games.

Metzger, who will compete in Sunday's freestyle motocross event, didn't have to be asked twice to take part in a competition that offers a first prize of $30,000 from a total purse of $100,000.

"I think that it's pretty cool to have LG stepping up like this with the big purses," said Metzger, who is considered the pioneer of the back-flip jump. "It's always nice to make money riding a bike."

Along with the potential for a nice paycheck, the event provides Metzger with the chance to add another title to his already impressive resume.

At 27, Metzger has established himself as a superstar in his sport. He's a three-time champion at the X Games, winning the big-air and freestyle titles in the summer of 2002 and the big-air title at the Winter X Games in 2003. His back-to-back flips in winning the freestyle gold medal in 2002 earned him legendary status among action sports fans.

"I have seen freestyle grow from the time when it was all about riding out in the hills to 1998, when we had our first big competition in Las Vegas," said Metzger, who resides in Menifee, Calif. "The popularity of the sport has just taken off over the last 4 1/2 years....

"To see where it is now is just incredible when you consider that the sport hasn't been around that long."

At the X Games last summer in Los Angeles, a combined crowd of more than 60,000 attended the moto X freestyle and big-air competitions at the Coliseum and Staples Center on consecutive nights. The fans were treated to the usual assortment of innovative tricks and moves -- and a few spectacular crashes.

Mike Jones, a veteran rider, was carted off in a wheelchair after attempting a barrel roll, and Beau Bamburg did not move for nearly five minutes after crashing when he attempted a combination move where he tried to leap over his handlebars at the conclusion of a back flip.

His own mishaps have forced Metzger to cut down on his schedule. He did not compete at the X Games because of an injury he suffered two weeks before the competition.

"In this business, I've gotten to the point where I choose not to jump all of the time," said Metzger, who began competing competitively when he was 6. "I'm already one of the older guys in the sport. Now, with the level guys have reached, you have to do a back-flip or the crowd doesn't get into it as much. It didn't use to be like that. But the back-flip changed everything."

Another top freestyle competitor who will be appearing at Pomona is Nate Adams of Wittmann, Ariz., the first rider to complete a back-flip heel clicker in competition.

After finishing second to Travis Pastrana at the X Games freestyle in August, Adams bounced back to hand Pastrana his first freestyle defeat at the Gravity Games in September. Earlier this month, Adams won the Vans Triple Crown freestyle title by sweeping consecutive events at the Richmond (Va.) Coliseum.

Adams, 19, credits the rapid growth of freestyle motocross to veterans such as Brian Deegan, Pastrana and of course, Metzger.

Whereas Adams already has plans for next year, that's not the case for Metzger, who does not plan to compete in too many more freestyle competitions.

"When you are young, you can take the beating a lot easier," said Metzger, who in his career has broken both arms several times, his back three times and both femurs.

"Now that the back-flip has taken over, the only thing you see is younger riders pulling off back-flips with their own different twists.

"But that's what makes the sport so great. I really enjoy seeing some of the things new kids are bringing to the sport."



Action Sports

* What: LG Action Sports Championships, featuring season-ending championships in skateboarding, BMX racing, freestyle motocross and inline skating.

* When: Today through Nov. 23.

* Where: Fairplex, Pomona.

* Highlights: Some of the biggest names in action sports will compete. Mike Metzger and Nate Adams head up the world championships of freestyle motocross; Ryan Nyquist and Jamie Bestwick are two of the top names in the U.S. championships of BMX; Ryan Sheckler and Eric Koston head up the U.S. skateboarding championships and Jaren Grob and Eito Yasutoko are inline skating's top athletes.

* Finals: Today, inline street course; Sunday, freestyle motocross; Tuesday, open skatepark; Thursday, BMX street course; Nov. 22, street course skateboarding; Nov. 23, vert skateboarding.

* Tickets: Adults $7; children 12 and under free.

* Parking: $6.

Lonnie White

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