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X GAMES at Staples Center

X-cellent

Official start of extreme sports competition brings 20,000 to Staples Center.

August 15, 2003|Dan Arritt | Times Staff Writer

They traveled from near and far for their first X Games experience.

Carmine Anastasio and his 10-year-old son, Dominic, took a red-eye flight from Dayton, Ohio, to reach Staples Center in time for Thursday's official start of the four-day competition.

Kristin Hughes and Jackie Rozul, both 19, took a day off from work and drove from Cypress to see their favorite athletes in person for the first time.

And Paulette and Pete Berry of New Zealand followed the advice of their Southern California host and sampled a trend that's growing just as fast in their home country.

In all, an announced crowd of 20,188, chaperons and the just plain curious made their way to downtown Los Angeles for the opening of the ninth X Games competition, which features more than 300 extreme-sports athletes competing in aggressive in-line skating, bike stunt, downhill BMX, motocross, skateboarding, surfing and wakeboarding.

Many in attendance were absorbing the energy of the X Games for the first time.

"We're not used to seeing anything like this," said Paulette Berry, who took advantage of the numerous outdoor cooling systems to lessen the effects of the 90-degree heat.

When ESPN and Staples Center agreed last fall to a two-year deal, a big incentive was using the large market in Los Angeles to expose new people to the world of extreme sports. And if Thursday's diverse crowd was any indication, their plan is right on track.

The crowd that partially filled the arena during the day and wandered around the outside exhibits and additional sports venues had people with tattoos and cotton candy, Harley-Davidson motorcycles and baby strollers, pierced tongues and graying goatees. Officials at Staples Center are taking a conservative approach to the event, disallowing the sale of alcohol.

Thomas Jay, 24, of Vermont used a microphone to promote a paintball target-shooting game, part of a sponsor booth that marketed a new form of antiperspirant. Jay worked the Winter X Games in Aspen, Colo., this year and was impressed with the cross-section of visitors to Staples Center, although he hoped the crowd would increase this weekend.

"I expected a few more people, but it is the first day," he said.

The Berrys came to Southern California to watch a junior wrestling tournament, but decided to check out the X Games after receiving a tip from their host in Long Beach.

Although New Zealand has long been considered a premier destination for bungee jumping, one of the original X Games sports, it also has become popular for sports such as jet boating, whitewater rafting, quad-biking, river surfing, hang gliding, and heli-skiing.

"It's all starting to take off down there," Paulette Berry said. "If you go into Queensland, you see it everywhere."

Inside Staples Center, the primary venue for the X Games, competition began with the bike stunt dirt preliminaries.

As Carmine and Dominic Anastasio sat together near the start ramp, Dominic admitted his passion is mainly for skateboarding. He became interested while watching the X Games on television, so when he learned at the beginning of summer that the X Games were coming to Los Angeles, he asked his father whether they could attend.

Carmine Anastasio said he had rarely seen such a hopeful look in his son's eyes.

"He's into skateboarding," Anastasio said. "I thought it would be a good idea."

Hughes and Rozul came to watch the bike stunt competition. They began following the sport while spending time with boyfriends, and made plans to attend the event soon after learning it was returning to Southern California. As far as their interest in other sporting events at Staples Center, there isn't any.

"Football?" Hughes said. "No way."

Outside Staples Center, the parking lot to the east was transformed into a carnival of booths and exhibits, which encircled the park-style course used for skateboarding, in-line skating and the bike stunt competition.

Among the exhibits was a Tour de France simulation game, complete with four racing bicycles and a mounted screen that took riders through the course.

Young men poured soft drinks through a nozzle attached to a backpack and young children stood in line waiting for temporary body art.

Jay pulled the microphone from his face and took another look around at the crowd, trying to figure the average age of the visitors. He wasn't having any success.

"This really isn't a young crowd," he said. "It's just a good mix of ages."

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