The high-flying, thrill-packed X Games events routinely push boundaries. So, the fact that course organizers have elevated the wow factor for this week’s competitions at U.S. Bank Stadium is not surprising.
And fans will notice even before an athlete steps foot on a skateboard, BMX or dirt bike.
Motocross and BMX riders will now start runs from side ramps constructed 20 rows into the crowd. Moto X Freestyle and BMX dirt competitions will launch from the lower parts of sections 120, 121 and 122. When Rich Bigge, ESPN’s X Games director of venue operations turns and says — “they’ll start from up there,” — he literally means well above the stadium floor.
“They’ll roll down and there will be a 75-foot kicker on this ramp, and they’ll already be elevated up into the air,” he said.
Extreme enough for you?
That first ramp in section 120, for Moto X Freestyle, will extend into the arena floor and span 110 feet between the start and a landing that appears to be around the 50-yard line of the Vikings field. It’s a return of a similar setup the X Games used at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
“When people come they’ll be like ‘whoa,’ because the riders will be right there,” Bigge said.
It’s another example that proves the X Games don’t rely solely on the famed MegaRamp to test limits. The athletes challenge themselves to reach new heights — literally — but the course designs add colorful twists for skaters and riders to expand both difficulty and visual interest.
Skateboarders and BMX competitors also will take on a different design in their park and street competitions. Last year’s Vikings theme has been done away with, replaced by lake designs that include painted 2-by-4s to mimic docks and railings from which Minnesotans have fished.
“I wanted it to have more of a lake feel, being in Minnesota,” Bigge said.
The medals have also been changed to a lake theme.
“We have a fish grabbing an ‘X,’ ” Bigge said. “We made the ‘X’ look like a lure. They all want to bite it, so I wanted them to be holding it like they caught a fish.”
Demolition will take on a different look, too.
The X Games needs to vacate U.S. Bank Stadium three days earlier than last year because of an International Champions Cup soccer match July 31. So how do you move 8,500 cubic feet of dirt even more quickly?
ESPN started with the scheduling, moving some of the biggest jumps (requiring the most dirt) to earlier in the weekend. Moving the Moto X Quarter Pipe High Air, featuring a 24-foot high dirt landing, back a day to Friday means they’ll demolish that gigantic pile before Saturday’s events.
Another event change also helps expedite cleanup. The Harley Davidson Flat Track race will require all dirt jumps to be leveled by Sunday, when the last dirt event will help close the Games. Last year, the Harley Davidson bikes raced at the Mall of America.
So the new challenge is leveling Saturday’s jumps to build the flat track overnight.
“Last year we had two weeks to build flat track at the mall,” Bigge said. “This year we have eight hours.”
‘Weird year’ for MegaRamp
A year after claiming his second X Games gold medal on the 82-foot tall MegaRamp, skateboarder Elliot Sloan said 2018 feels like a “weird year” heading into Saturday night’s competition.
“People aren’t too psyched,” Sloan said. “The problem is there’s only one — well there’s two MegaRamps, but there’s only one anyone really goes to skate.”
Sloan, a veteran of the X Games’ Big Air contest who also won gold in 2013, said he’s seen fewer athletes practicing at the usual spots because of conditions at each California MegaRamp. Riders need to “dodge screw heads” on the one at Woodward West skatepark in Tehachapi, Calif., according to Sloan. The popular one, in the backyard of Bob Burnquist’s Vista, Calif. residence, hasn’t been as crowded, Sloan said, in part because skaters have to either climb or drive the hillside to summit for each run.
Sloan said a saving grace is the MegaRamp’s annually pristine condition. Games athletes will get limited practice time inside U.S. Bank Stadium before Saturday night.
“It’s kind of crazy, people are pretty much going to show up there and skate that ramp not having skated it since last year,” Sloan said. “That being said, that [X Games] ramp is so good.”