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X GAMES DIARY

Event No Longer Simply Child's Play

August 04, 2006|Pete Thomas | Times Staff Writer

Action sports took center stage Thursday as X Games 12 arrived in Los Angeles, bringing with it enough star power to illuminate the city.

More than 160 athletes from 17 countries will have participated when the extravaganza, at Staples Center and the Home Depot Center, concludes Sunday.

And while many adults will need to ask their sons or daughters who these people are and what it is they're trying to do, they might be surprised to learn that some of them may be as old as they are.

Three X Games athletes are in their mid-50s, thanks to the addition this year of rally car racing. At the opposite end of the spectrum are skateboarders Nyjah Huston, 11, Elizabeth Nitu, 12, and Lacey Baker, 14.

The rest, of course, fall somewhere in between, with many of those fast approaching middle age. Six athletes have competed in all 12 X Games and several were on hand for the first "Extreme Games" in 1995 in Providence, R.I., but missed a year or two since because of injuries.

A few dozen are in their 30s and that they're still competing is testament not only to their longevity, but that of their sports -- mostly skateboarding and bicycle motocross, which have been involved from the outset, but also freestyle motocross, introduced in 1998.

"As much as people thought we were a passing thing, we're here to stay," said Kevin Robinson, 34, a BMX vert specialist who finished eighth in 1995 and collected less than $700. "I've been doing this for 23 years and people who tell me it's not going to stick around are contradicting my life."

Like many X Games 30-somethings, Robinson is a husband and father. "So we're just like everybody else," he said.

This year, the top prize for each men's event is $50,000.

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Don't have a cow, man: Bart Simpson's mantra is also that of Bob Burnquist, 29, who has competed in all 12 X Games. His longevity, he said, can be attributed to the fact that he is a vegetarian.

He became one years ago while driving home from San Francisco. He had just consumed a Double-Double from In-N-Out Burger and was overcome by the notorious stench Interstate 5 motorists often encounter while passing Harris Ranch in the Central Valley.

"I had this stomachache and I opened the window and saw this sea of cows," Burnquist recalled. "I looked at them and thought, 'I have one of you guys in my stomach.' I was so grossed out and felt so bad that from then on I shifted my approach to eating."

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Brazilian one-two: Burnquist, who was born in Rio de Janeiro but lives in Vista and holds dual citizenship, missed his final trick on his best-of-three vert runs and was edged by Sandro Dias, who claimed his second X Games gold.

"I was a switch kick-flip away from a gold medal and I'll lose sleep over it," Burnquist said. "But a fellow Brazilian won, so it's not so bad."

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Gone in 60 seconds: Burnquist's live-in girlfriend, Jen O'Brien, was erroneously awarded the bronze after the women's vert competition, then judges confessed a goof and took it back -- along with her smile -- and gave the medal to Karen Jones.

"I was embarrassed more than anything else, but it was an accident and I'm over it," O'Brien said.

On the bright side, Burnquist told her, Jones is Brazilian.

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Double trouble? Much of the buzz leading to the X Games has centered on Travis Pastrana and whether he'll try the double back flip in the freestyle motocross competition.

Single flips are dangerous enough, but the double is a potentially deadly endeavor, and Pastrana reportedly has perfected the trick above his foam pit back home in Annapolis, Md.

Said FMX legend Brian Deegan of the oft-injured Pastrana: "For the riders, we would like to see Travis do it because it will bring the sport more recognition, but I'm over seeing Travis get hurt. I'm over seeing him pressured into doing things he doesn't want to do.

"But I would like to see him go for it. I know he can do it, but one split-second of hesitation in our sport, man, and it's over."

Among Deegan's many injuries was an obliterated kidney, since removed.

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