At X Games 16, there's something new and something old revisited

Jul 28 2010 - 9:34pm

LOS ANGELES -- Boil the history of action sports down to its essence, and a single phrase emerges: Can you top this?

That concept has driven the sport's growth for decades, and the X Games does the same, adding new events or twists to old ones seemingly every year.

For example, the X Games added the big air skateboarding event in 2004 after Danny Way, the event's pioneer, pushed for it. Another change came in 2009 when X Games officials heeded the request of skaters and created a concrete skate park for a different skateboarding competition, switching from the wooden park used the year before.

This year, at X Games 16, which begins Thursday in downtown Los Angeles, there are two new events, plus an old event that returns to its iconic birthplace. Here's a look at what's new:

Real Street

In a nod to the growing skateboard filming industry, the X Games allowed 12 top street skaters to each submit a one-minute, trick-loaded video for a shot at a gold medal and a $50,000 first prize.

"There's a huge segment of skaters and all they want to do is film," said Tim Reed, ESPN senior director of sports and competition. "It's great to give them a board platform to show what they can do."

The videos are available online and will be telecast Sunday. A panel of professional skaters will decide the winner. Fans can vote online for their own favorite; the winner there gets $2,500.

Johnny Layton, a street skater from Long Beach, agreed to enter the competition because making videos is a daily routine for him, as it is with many other skaters. "It's crazy -- every day you can go online and there's another person with another video," he said.

Layton chose skating tricks that were filmed in North Carolina, Oregon, Arizona and just down the street from his house. "I thought it was pretty good, then I started to see some of the other guys' footage, and I was like dang, all of them are really good," Layton said.

He said this event caters to the underground group of skaters who focus on making videos rather than competing in public contests, and it also gives them a chance at a "pretty big chunk of change."

Superrally

A twist on the European rallycross style of racing, four 600-horsepower cars will race door-to-door on a dirt track inside the Coliseum on Saturday night as this sport makes its U.S. television debut.

Twelve drivers will do time-trial runs to determine which four will compete in the five-lap final race. But unlike the rally car racing event (with two finalists), now in its fifth year at the X Games, the superrally winner will be decided by whichever of the four cars crosses the finish line first.

"There's going to be a lot of carnage in both, but superrally is more like supercross, where cars will be shouldering against each other to get the best line for each corner," said Capistrano Beach native Tanner Foust, who will compete in both events this year.

Foust, a three-time medalist in the rally car racing event, may have an advantage over the other drivers in the superrally event: He raced in the European rallycross championship last year, and has three such races under his belt.

"I'm very familiar with all the pushing and all the close proximity," Foust said. "I think the other drivers will catch on to that really fast and that advantage won't last for long."

In the races, each car will have to make a 70-foot jump at least once. They must also drive up through the Coliseum's arches and come back down, a considerable drop, and squeeze through a narrow tunnel underneath a ramp.

"It's going to be brutal," Foust said.

But as athletes and the X Games have always pushed the borders with events and tricks, the risk of danger has shot up.

Three years after Way's skateboarding big air competition debuted, Carlsbad native Jake Brown failed to nail a specific trick, and free-fell more than 45 feet to the ground. Remarkably, he sustained just minor injuries.

Homecoming for Super X

One reason X Games officials pushed to centralize the X Games in downtown L.A. was to hold events in the Coliseum. Skateboard and BMX Big Air events, along with the rally car races, will be held there this year, but no extreme action sport has more history in the building than the supercross, known at the X Games as Super X.

The 1972 Super Bowl of Motocross, the first supercross race, was held at the Coliseum before more than 30,000 fans. The peristyle jump, in which riders launch from the Coliseum's famous entrance back down to the stadium floor, became symbolic within the sport.

Josh Hansen, the two-time defending Super X gold medalist, said he's looking forward to the event (the men's final is Thursday), especially because his dad, supercross legend Donnie Hansen, raced there in the early 1980s.

"There's not too many races like it," Donnie Hansen said. "Back in my day ... you could get up to speed pretty significantly, probably 50, 55 (miles per hour), where normally your average is probably 35."

Adaptive athlete Chris Ridgway is the only 2010 X Games Super X athlete to have raced in the Coliseum (the last race there was in the late '90s), and the first thing he thought of when he heard it was coming back was the peristyle jump.

"That's where it all started," he said.

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