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Extreme sports are getting tricky
Friday, 13 February 2004





Athletes under pressure to invent new, more complicated stunts

For Winter X Games athletes, the inspiration can come from anywhere.

Snowboarder Danny Kass, who won silver medals in slopestyle and superpipe in last month's Winter X Games in Aspen, Colo., is constantly adding tricks to his repertoire.

"Sometimes I just think them up," he said. "And some of them come from watching other people."

There are only so many combinations of spins and flips, so at this point snowboarders and freestyle skiers are just adding or adjusting a standard set of tricks. They add their own style or attempt something more outlandish than the others.

"I want all my tricks to be as big as my straight airs," said Kelly Clark, Olympic gold medalist and Winter X Games silver medalist in snowboard superpipe. "And I'm working on making them more technical, adding grabs to everything."

Ski and snowboard judges reward a trick executed with a grab because it increases the level of difficulty. The same is not true in all sports.

Motocross is going the other way. Instead of grabbing, the riders are releasing their bikes.

"When you feel comfortable with a trick, you take another part of your body off the bike," motocross rider Mike Metzger said. "That's how the sport evolves."

In the Winter X best trick competition, Caleb Wyatt took both hands off the bars while performing a back flip off the 90-foot ramp. It was only the fourth time he had tried it.

On his second run, Wyatt went one step further and tried to remove both hands and both feet on the flip. He lost control and crashed. Stunned, he lay still for a moment and let the medics check him out.

Wyatt walked away uninjured. But it raises the question, especially after another rider was hospitalized when he crashed in the event: Why do athletes attempt tricks they haven't mastered in practice?

"Where I live in Oregon, the weather's kind of rainy and I don't have any place to practice," Wyatt said. "And most of these tricks are do or die, anyway."

Athletes say they feel pressure to try new things in competition, because any one trick's shelf life is so short.

And soon, the snowboarders, skiers and motocross riders are going to have to add even more daring tricks, because a new breed of aerialist is moving in.

For the first time, the Winter X Games staged a freestyle snowmobile jam. These riders, driving stock snowmobiles over towering ramps, take their inspiration from the BMX and motocross crowds.

"We got that first moto video, 'Crusty Demons of Dirt,' " said Kourtney Hungerford of Bozeman, Mont. "We wanted to try it. Then we thought, well, our winters are longer than our summers, so let's see if we could do it on sleds."

It wasn't long before Hungerford and his friends were performing standard motocross tricks - can cans, nacnacs and superman seat grabs - while soaring through the air off snow-covered ramps.

Things progressed quickly to the point where three of the riders in the jam session completed picture-perfect back flips.

And this is where motocross riders, skiers and snowboarders might need to watch out. The thrill of watching a rider flip a 250-pound motorbike loses some of its appeal when, a hundred yards away, other riders are flipping 450-pound sleds. Spinning skiers become even less exciting.

The snowmobile jam was an exhibition this time, but Winter X Games organizers are considering adding it as a full-fledged event.

"The sky's the limit on what tricks we could do," Hungerford said. "It just depends on who has the guts to try it."

Soon, the traditional X Games athletes might be looking to these guys for inspiration.

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