Not X-Actly What I X-Pected
Goofy. But fun. That was the original X Games. I’m not sure that the hordes of people that descended on L.A. Live over the weekend know that “X” is (or at least was) shorthand for “extreme”, what with that word being sooo before the millennium.
But that’s what it was. In the mid-90’s, some forward-thinking sports production types at ESPN (yes, I know that I’m bordering on oxymoronic territory there) decided to take a chance on a new concept for filling hours of air time in the deadest sports month of the year.
“Why not,” they reasoned, “hold an Olympic-style competition featuring the types of sports engaged in by those kids who…well, who aren’t quite right.”
Rumor has it that it was originally going to be called the Jeff Spicoli Games, but the producers of Fast Times at Ridgemont High wouldn’t license the name. OK, I made that up. But a partial line-up of the sports that made up the first Extreme Games (as it was called then) reveals how eclectic the event was when it debuted: Bungee Jumping. Sky Surfing. Sport Climbing. Street Luge.
Seriously – Street Luge. I actually happened to be living in Providence, Rhode Island when the first Extreme Games site was being built out and I remember being alternately fascinated and horrified at the route chosen for the Street Luge course. I couldn’t imagine anyone surviving a crash. And I wondered…where exactly does onepractice Street Luge?
But what was once delightfully off-beat and viral is now so contrived and tightly packaged you would assume that even the most naïve of kids would recognize that the X Games is one big infomercial. Indeed, if you look up the X Games on Wikipedia, the first sub-heading that greets you is “Economics”. Enough said.
But evidently they’re OK with it, as I learned when I ventured into downtown L.A. over the weekend.
My first instinct for my coverage of this event was to say that the Moto X (Moto X…Moto Cross…get it?) competition that I witnessed was no more a sport than the Real World television show is…well, the real world. But then I realized that this was a tremendous disservice to the athletes involved. Because what they do is amazingly athletic.
If you are a motocross racer – and especially a motocross stunt racer, you absolutely, positively can NOT mail it in on practice. If you decide to slack off in preparation for a competition, you might as well spend the time you saved by adding every ambulance service in town onto your speed dial list.
These athletes are dedicated to both their craft, and to putting on a good show. And it was a good show. For the bite-sized pieces of action that were interspersed with looooooong stretches of staring into space. Make no mistake about it – this was not a sporting event that ESPN happened to be covering. This was a made-for-television event, for which we the public were a studio audience. How else do you explain this scheduling:
• At 5:30 the qualifying round for the Moto X Speed & Style competition began, with the objective of narrowing the field of 11 racers down to 8 finalists. Each cyclist did just one run.
• At 6:20 the qualifying round was concluded.
• At 7:40, the first quarterfinal heat began.
For the mathematically challenged, that is a break in the action of exactly 80 minutes.
And we were held captive. Literally every exit door of the Staples Center was clearly labeled “No Re-Entry”. If you had a notion to stroll through the street X-Po or simply go for a walk in the beautiful evening sun during the break, you forfeited the right to see the finals.
Why the time gap? Because ESPN shifted coverage to a skateboarding venue. And since this X Games was billed as All Live All The Time, we had to wait until the skateboard competition had concluded.
It’s not like we had nothing to keep us occupied though. For about 45 minutes we were enraptured by the sight of maintenance workers packing and smoothing the dirt track. Then we got the ESPN feed of the skateboarding, which through the Staples Center’s clarity-challenged P.A. system sounded like: “And thienonfne klsingish fnnnuugled lipstonssssnnng! WOW!”
Did I mention that each and every one of the 1,396 bars inside the Staples Center was open throughout this “halftime”? At this point I invite you to close your eyes, lean back, and envision what some portions of an “extreme sports” crowd were like after having nothing to do but drink for over an hour and a half.
OK, you can open your eyes now. Hey! I said you can open your…damn…I always lose readers when I try that technique.
To be continued…