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X GAMES

X Games Dig 'Sick' Feeling

Successful four-day run in L.A. ends after competitors unleash several crowd-pleasing maneuvers.

August 09, 2004|Peter Yoon | Times Staff Writer

If the X Games taught Los Angeles anything over the last four days it's that you can't say "awesome" anymore.

"Sick" is the new term. Incredible feats are no longer incredible. They're ridiculous.

And there was plenty of sick ridiculousness to go around during the X Games, which concluded Sunday at Staples Center and the Home Depot Center.

Chuck Carothers let go of his motorcycle and rolled his body in mid-air, Sandro Dias landed a 900-degree spin on a skateboard, Danny Way's vision of riding down a 60-foot ramp on a skateboard became a reality and Dave Mirra passed Tony Hawk on the list of most X Games medals won.

The sports and athletes progressed as quickly as the vernacular and event organizer ESPN kept pace with the addition of live television, on-site SportsCenter broadcasts and star-studded, invitation-only competitions.

The jury is still out on whether those changes were good for the games, but evolution is part of the X Games and this year's version certainly had that. The only thing left to ponder was, what's next?

"I don't know what's next and that's the exciting thing about it," said Jack Weinart, X Games executive director. "I don't think we're as big as we can get, I'll tell you that."

What is next is a secondary issue right now. The two-year agreement to hold the games in Los Angeles ended at the close of Sunday's action, so where it would happen was the foremost question.

ESPN, which runs the X Games, hasn't announced the host city for next year's X Games, and has switched cities every two years throughout the 10-year history of the X Games. There are negotiations underway to change that trend and bring the games back to Los Angeles, but nothing is guaranteed.

An announcement is expected by the end of the month.

"Southern California is a good fit," Weinart said. "We've had two tremendous X Games here and we're very comfortable here, but we do have ongoing conversations with other cities."

Action sports are a fast-growing industry. Attendance for the four days of the X Games this year was 170,471, including a single-day record of 79,380 on Saturday, and the 10-year attendance has surpassed 2 million.

Those fans have other options should the X Games not return. The LG Action Sports Championships, for example, take place in September in Pomona and the Gravity Games follow in Cleveland.

Bringing one of those events to downtown is an option, though it is not being pursued. The Anschutz Entertainment Group, which runs Staples Center and the Home Depot Center, is interested only in the X Games.

'We're not talking to anybody else at this point," said Tim Leiweke, president of AEG. "Our No. 1 priority is ESPN and we would like to bring them here for as many years as we can."

No matter where the games are held next year, the goal at ESPN is always to make them better. Live television was only part of the advancement this year.

New events Moto X SuperMoto and Way's Big Air were added and were big hits. Except for the Moto X Freestyle, the games went to a finals-only format, meaning just about everything fans and television viewers saw had medal-winning consequences.

But with progress often come growing pains. Live television meant commercial delays, often disrupting the flow of competition, getting athletes out of rhythm and, in one instance, a significant change in the competition format.

In the bike stunt vert competition, riders were supposed to get three runs, counting the best one for their score. When the Moto X step-up competition ran long, riders were informed that they'd get only two runs so ESPN would not run over its allotted time.

The step-up riders "were out there jumping for joy, dragging us out like that," said Jamie Bestwick, who won the event last year but crashed on both runs this year. "For me it was anti-climactic. It made you lose focus on the tricks you do on a daily basis."

In the big air competition, skateboarders sat atop a six-story ramp, pumped up and ready to go, only to have an ESPN worker hold a hand in front of them, telling them they could only go when television said they could go.

"It's pretty nerve-racking sitting up there like that," said Andy Macdonald, the bronze medal winner in the event. "You want to get going when you're ready to go. Then all of a sudden you have someone saying 'Go! Go! Go!' I didn't feel like it was as much of a contest as it was a TV show."

They don't practice under those conditions and the distractions could hurt the quality of the contests, but some say it is a small price to pay considering the exposure that live television brings.

"Without a doubt," said skateboarder Bob Burnquist. "We have to accommodate live television because it helps grow our sport."

One drawback of live television is that nobody knows what will happen or when. Dias, for example, landed his 900 during a commercial break and ESPN had to show it on tape. And for the second consecutive year, small waves detracted from the surfing competition.

"There are some drawbacks to doing it live," said Rich Feinberg, senior coordinating producer for ESPN. "But live television makes things more exciting and I think when you're live, you get more than you lose."

Live television also meant the events needed streamlining and thus, the finals-only format. And because organizers wanted the top athletes, it meant athletes could compete only if invited. That irritated many athletes who were left off and also didn't sit well with some who were invited.

"I think it hurts the development of our sport," Macdonald said. "Having young guys qualify for this would help them get to this level. We need that for the future."

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