This weekend at U.S. Bank Stadium you could stand in the valley of the shadow of death, right down there where visiting football teams drink Gatorade.
Elliot Sloan was standing in this valley Saturday afternoon at the X Games. He had just skateboarded from a 75-foot-high platform, launched himself off a ramp, pulled off a 720-degree rotation, gathered speed in the valley, launched himself high as the suite level, rotated 900 degrees and stuck the landing.
“Man, I’ve never done that before,’’ he said. “I don’t know if anyone has done that before.’’
The “Indy 900,’’ during which he reached under his skateboard before landing like a duck on lake, won him gold in the Big Air final. In 2015, he tried a “900,’’ fell on his head, compressed two discs in his neck and suffered shooting pains.
Did he have to conquer fear to try the move again?
Sloan nodded and said, “Uh, yeah.”
He pulled his shirt up to wipe his face, revealing the skateboarding version of a flak jacket. “This thing has saved me so many times,’’ he said. “So much can go wrong so fast. When you watch it back, you say, ‘Oh, it doesn’t look that fast.’ But when you land it there’s a split second where you go, ‘Oh, man, what am I doing?’ ”
It’s a fair question. These are the Elbow Pad Olympics, which test fearlessness as much as skill.
Earlier, Kevin Peraza won a gold medal in the men’s BMX Park. And it wasn’t just gold; it was gold and shaped like a Viking ship, featuring sails and oars and maybe Adrian Peterson’s switch.
You think doing airborne somersaults on a bike is dangerous? Peraza’s medal could put an eye out.
“In Minnesota, the weather is beautiful, inside and outside the stadium,’’ Peraza said. “You come to Minnesota and see everything is purple, and my bike was purple. I was like, this is sick, this is sick.’’
In the world of flat hat brims and abrasions, words like “sick’’ are usually compliments. Sloan used the words “gnarly,’’ “slammed,’’ “dude’’ and “stoked.’’ You’d mistake some of these athletes for extras from “Breaking Bad” if they didn’t look like stunt doubles.
Even if you care not for the world of bikes and boards, the X Games represent a rare spectacle. Perhaps only the Winter Olympics compare in terms of visual intimidation.
Lugers, bobsledders and ski jumpers share the same daredevil DNA as X Gamers. The difference is that this weekend the daredevils are wearing T-shirts and crashing on dirt and concrete.
“Everyone’s healthy today, no one got hurt, and that’s the biggest thing in our sport,’’ Peraza said. “Even though we’re competing we’re all friends and we love BMX and we all feel exactly the same. Even though I was in the lead and waiting to get bumped down, I was here supporting all of my friends.’’
To cover the Winter Olympics is to worry about the physical and mental health of the participants. You stand at the base of a downhill ski run and wonder how Lindsey Vonn will survive without a helicopter.
Saturday in the Moto X Step Up, Jarryd McNeil jumped his dirt bike up a ramp and over a high-jump bar 44 feet above the ground, and landed without using a parachute.
Which raises the question: How do you talk yourself into doing that the first time?
Nicole Hause, the skateboarder from Stillwater, fell in love with the speed and the sensation of flying. Saturday, she finished fourth in the women’s skateboard park, right after Rochester’s Alec Majerus took silver in the men’s skateboard street.
Sloan said of his event: “It’s just so gnarly. The worst part is standing all the way up there, waiting. They’re doing all this nonsense, the kiss cam and everything, and it’s like, ‘Dude, just let us go.’ ”
He looked around the stadium and said, “Look at this place. I’m stoked.’’
I have to admit, it was pretty sick.