Know that kid you saw doing a flip of his skateboard on the sidewalk? Okay, now imagine him on it screaming down an 80-foot wooden ramp, flipping his whole body for 50 feet in midair and landing on a 27-foot ramp. While television created ESPN X Games, it's a whole other thing when seen up close. Few sports combine athleticism, artistry, and outright danger as much as the X Games 17 in Los Angeles. From all over the world, athletes and fans come for the rush, the true thrill and excitement as old ABC Wide World of Sports broadcasts used to say. Angelenos shouldn't take it for granted or groan next time but instead, make the most of it.
Beyond the spectacle and awe and the somewhat kitschy Vegas meets the County Fair feel, it is sporting at its highest levels, sometimes literally. To walk into the "Lakers Land" Staples Center, see the entire floor transformed into a dirt track with 20-foot hills and then watch someone like Andre Villa go in the air, flip his motorcycle, dislodge himself from it and only be holding onto it with his hands on the handles (see slide show pic) before managing to get back on the seat and land and keep going, makes any circus act or gymnastics competition look like yoga.
This was also the case for Women's Street Skateboard, where seeing someone like Candy Jacobs scraping across the edge of a garbage dumpster (see slide show pic) before landing on concrete below just somehow makes a balance beam dismount or pirouette or basketball dunk not seem so daring.
Same for something like BMX Freestyle where boys and men are on bikes in a park you would typically only see skateboarders on in most hometowns. I still cringe everytime I think about one Australian, Kyle Baldock, doing front flips. Its like an invisible car had hit him head-on and he flipped over the length of the car, landed, and again, kept going.
BMX also ended up being the subject of a true sports storyline as well when Daniel Dehrs won the Freestyle Park competition (see slide show pic). He's from Venezuela, won back-to-back golds, and this year won by way of a tiebreaker. He told me, "It all started for me when the city of Caracas created the first concrete vert ramp to keep us out of trouble." And now look.
And yet you still have, as in all sports, the dominators of their field who take things to another level. Cats who just clear the deck and have beaten you psychologically with their legend when they step in the arena and then affirm your worst fears by living up to the hype. Such is the case with someone like Shaun White. I mean, its going to be a tough day as a skater when the guy you know about, the guy who has his own skateboard company logo on his own skateboard, gets wild applause from the crowd... on just his practice runs. And indeed, his gold medal pile got higher again this year as he won the Skate Vert competition (see slide show pic).
There were many other great things at X Games -- like the X Fest area for kids with a zillion giveaways, the crazy design inspirations on skateboards and bikes which clearly influence design in areas we're just not aware of until we see it so densely here. And then, there's just the diversity of people -- many of whom couldn't tell a whip from a flip or a half-pipe from a toilet bowl, just trying to keep their kids from wanting every autograph or eating too many free Warheads sour candies. In that regard, it was just another beautiful day in Los Angeles.
For full listings and results of X Games 17 go to this page at ESPN.com.