Jackson Strong waved a Vikings flag, connected to a set of handlebars, with his broken left wrist as thousands of X Games fans watched in awe inside U.S. Bank Stadium. The Australian motocross stuntman landed a double back-flip. His 220-pound dirt bike transferred quarterpipes in the process, ensuring Strong a silver in last year’s Moto X Best Trick despite riding through his injury from a previous crash.
Strong, 26, returns to Minneapolis on Friday and Saturday nights as an established X Games innovator, three-time gold medalist and a budding local favorite. That will happen when you hide a purple Vikings flag behind a padded ramp before a podium-worthy run.
Who knew safety Harrison Smith had something to do with it?
“I’m friendly with one of the players, Harrison Smith,” Strong explained. “I was talking to him a bunch last year. Thought it’d be a nice little gesture for those guys and all the local Minnesotans who are Vikings fans.”
Except Strong pronounces Minnesotans with a little flair: “Minnesot-ians.” It’s only appropriate for a man flying into the boundaries of gravity, taking the future of multiple action sports with him.
From a distance, Strong and Smith’s acquaintance with each other makes sense. The two have kept up on social media, Strong said, and will reconnect this week in the Twin Cities ahead of Strong’s X Games and Smith’s Vikings training camp.
Smith, the 29-year-old All-Pro safety, conquered his fear of flying by earning a pilot’s license at Flying Cloud Airport in Eden Prairie. Strong, the thrill seeker who drove an off-road desert racing truck and participated in a Spartan Race during this year’s down time, said his fear is constant.
“I think fear is what feeds the fire, what keeps it real,” Strong said. “If it wasn’t scary, it wouldn’t be fun or exciting. Come Friday and Saturday night, I’ll be shooting myself before it’s time to go out and give a run at Minneapolis.”
Adding to the nerves is what Strong has up his sleeve for Saturday night’s Moto X Best Trick.
It’s a new stunt he’s yet to unveil in competition.
“I tried my trick that I’m doing in best trick, which I can’t say,” Strong said. “I tried it on dirt last week. Crashed it unfortunately, but I’m hoping I can land that one come Saturday night.”
Innovator and fearless are still words associated with Strong, and rightfully so. He was the first to land a front flip on a dirt bike during the 2011 summer X Games. He then landed that front flip again to win gold in 2016’s Moto X Best Trick — only after he had been airlifted to an Austin, Texas, hospital that same day.
Doctors feared damage to an artery in Strong’s neck after he flew off his bike during the Moto X Quarterpipe competition. Everything checked out, and he caught the helicopter back in time to win Best Trick gold.
“That’s what it’s all about — innovation,” Strong said. “If you can do something no one else is doing, I think that’s what really counts. So many ideas I have in my head, could go on for decades if I could mentally put up with it.”
As Strong’s creations grow, so do his fledgling ties to Minnesota.
He’s pushing the boundaries in snow action sports, too, first training in St. Cloud on a snowmobile before the 2013 Winter X Games. Strong attempted to jump into the snowmobile competition immediately, resulting in a scary crash where his throttle got stuck and sent the snowmobile into the crowd.
Snow bikes were just introduced to this January’s Winter X Games, in part because of Strong’s push for their inclusion. He prefers snow bikes, featuring a slender snowmobile-like track and singular ski, over snowmobiles as they better resemble his beloved dirt bikes. He won silver in the first Snow Bike Best Trick competition ever in Aspen, Colo.
“I’m definitely going to be spending more time this year in the snow,” Strong said. “I just don’t know where.”
But that will have to wait until after he reveals his latest new trick inside U.S. Bank Stadium this weekend.
“Definitely have a lot planned for this year,” Strong said. “I’ve done all the practice I can and done everything I think I need to do to make it work. It’s just really a difficult one.”
Fans shouldn’t expect anything less.