Being an Xtreme athlete means signing on the dotted line to get injured. At this year’s X Games, there were amazing feats of achievement -- along with horrific spills and crashes.
Arab American Omar Hassan and African American Nyjah Huston were two athletes of diverse backgrounds in a predominantly Caucasian contingent. And while athletes like Shaun White and Carey Hart have achieved millions through their sports and resulting endorsements, retirement age is in the 30s, followed by a lifetime dealing with the after-effects of their injuries.
Osaka-born Taka Higashino was but one of two Japanese athletes competing this year. Last year, he was shut out of the podium, taking fourth place in two categories. This year, he was the one to beat. And Higashino lived up to the hype, winning both a gold and a silver medal. Higashino competed in the Best Trick competition the night after his historic Gold Medal win the previous night.
Taka Higashino celebrates his gold medal-winning ride
He also followed a terrifying fall from Clinton Moore, who crashed and then lay on the ground. As Moore was slowly getting up, an X Games handler scooped up his bike, wheels still spinning, and accidentally walloped Moore with it, knocking Moore back to the ground. A collective groan echoed throughout the Staples Center. I don’t think there’s any parent that won’t replay in her mind the countless soccer car pools and thankless parental prodding to practice and think, “We did all this for some dude to hammer my kid into the dirt with his own bike?”
Moore’s mishap was not the only crash during the four days of the X Games. Medical teams rushed out with a stretcher several times during the various Moto X competitions. Over at the BMX, there were more spills than completed runs. There were also several Rally Car crashes, including one in which the driver narrowly escaped death after smoke billowed from his car as a result of a failed jump (the car crashed into a ramp and flipped over). The German driver is just 21 years old. In order to rev up the crowd, the arena commentators repeatedly reminded the crowd that the athletes were putting themselves through pain for our enjoyment.
Moto X Step Up is like high jump but with motor bikes. With each jump, the driver is punished by the velocity of the drop. The world record was set this year at 47 feet. The finalists jumped 11 times, and the gold medal winner agonized through an injured wrist to complete the jumps. That’s the least of the damage potentially incurred by dropping nearly five stories.
It’s no wonder that youth is a prevalent characteristic of the X Games athletes (the youngest competitor was 11). Teenagers don gold medals and million dollar sponsorships. Longevity is not guaranteed -- gold medalist Jackson Strong in Moto X Best Trick dedicated his win to a fellow rider who is in a coma following a crash at Strong’s training facility. ESPN also invited athletes from 22 countries this year, so Xtreme sports are not particularly exclusive. And neither are the injuries.
all photos by the author
The previous issue of Hyphen is available in its entirety for your perusing pleasure. Almost as good as having it right in your hands!