One packed day at X Games Barcelona
BARCELONA, Spain -- I've covered 10 Olympics on four continents, 18 World Series, a few Super Bowls and the Wife Carrying World Championships in Sonkajärvi, Finland. But this is my first X Games, so I'm a little unfamiliar with the events (and a little lost without box scores).
There is only one solution to this: to attend all the X Games competitions in a single day and learn as much about each discipline as possible. So I fill myself on a breakfast of Manchego cheese, Ibérico ham and Cocoa Pebbles cereal and then head up to Montjuïc for a Saturday of X Mania.
Noon, X Games Park Course, Women's Skateboard Park Final
This is the first Women's Skateboard Park event at an X Games, and the stands are mostly full to watch it.
"This definitely makes you excited and want to step it up and take more chances," competitor Mimi Knoop tells me. "It's great atmosphere."
It's certainly a better atmosphere for female skateboarders than when Knoop was growing up.
"I never met or saw another girl skater until I was 23," says Knoop, now 34. "I always skateboarded with boys in the neighborhood, and we didn't even have skateparks. We skated in the streets, or we built our own things to put in the road. And that's what we did. It was like climbing trees -- the same sort of relative thinking. We did it for fun."
Knoop says the neighborhood boys were generally accepting of her, but every once in a while she was left out.
"Sometimes I would call and say, 'Hey, are we skating?' and they would say no. And then I would look out the window and see them skateboarding down there," she says. "Sometimes they didn't want the girls around, and I understand that.
"That's why it's great to have this group of women now to where we can all push each other and lift each other up."
Knoop makes the final round but finishes off the podium. Just 12 years old, Alana Smith finishes second, behind Lizzie Armanto, to become the youngest medalist in X Games history. She gives the event her all, trying repeatedly (though unsuccessfully) to land a McTwist, as she did at Exposure 2012 when she became the first female skateboarder to do so.
Smith calls Knoop a "legend, an amazing inspiration." And like Knoop, it sounds like she will do her part to take the sport further.
"I plan on skating everything possible," Smith says. "I'll skate anything, if it's on the streets or in the park or indoors. Anything possible, I want to compete in it."
2:40 p.m., X Games Park Course, BMX Park Final
I am an avid cyclist, and whenever I ride, I wear a Road ID bracelet my wife insists upon. It includes my name, emergency contacts and the reminder, "You Know the Rules." Those rules are that I never ride at night, I never wear headphones, I always ride carefully in traffic, and most importantly, I always wear a helmet.
Now I think she will include another rule: I never ride BMX Park.
These guys are amazing. They pull off the most spectacular stunts seen on a bicycle since Elliott and E.T. soared in front of the moon. Drew Bezanson rides up a park-course wall, soars beyond it, twists himself around, bounces his tires off the metal barrier at the bottom of the stands and plunges back into the course. He also pulls off flips that are literally stomach churning.
"I landed so hard I threw up," he says. "I don't think the judges noticed."
Vomit deductions or not, Bezanson doesn't make the podium. Gary Young wins the competition and celebrates by holding his infant daughter, Leena, in front of the cheering fans.
As cyclists are wont to do, I ask Young what was the worst injury he ever suffered in his sport.
"I didn't always ride with a helmet. There was a time I was filming a video part and I hit my head," he says. "It wasn't a hard hit; it was just cruise over and touch my head. But I fractured my skull in three places. I didn't even get knocked out, but I spent the next three days in the ICU. That was the worst injury. That was the most eye-opening [experience]. Like, 'Life is fragile, and you have to appreciate every day.'"
He now knows the rules. Always wear a helmet. "Ever since," Young says. "Pro-tec."
4:45 p.m., X Games Street Course, Street League Skateboarding Final
Where the hell is Hall of Fame groundskeeper George Toma when you need him? Or at least Carl Spackler?
The Street League Skateboarding final round is supposed to be going on, but it's raining lightly and the X Games crew is working as hard as possible to dry the street course. Which is not easy to do in the rain. A baseball field can be wet but still playable, but a skateboard street course needs to be as dry as the Sahara.
The crew is doing the best it can with what is available: towels, squeegees, blowers. They eventually unroll a sheet of thin plastic across the entry zone and stand on the edges to keep it from blowing away.
Fortunately, the dark clouds above the city gradually blow to the distance, the sun comes out, and the final resumes.
"I've never skated a contest that I can remember where it was raining and we had a rain delay," Paul Rodriguez says.
P-Rod handles it well, landing a number of tricks to take a narrow lead in the final Impact section with only one competitor left: defending gold medalist Nyjah Huston. Looking to land a hardflip over the Hubba feature -- and yes, I'm just lifting that description from a colleague who actually knows skateboarding -- Huston begins to roll on to the course, then holds up and starts over. And then goes again and lands the trick to win.
"I was thinking everything needs to be right for me to land such a trick," Huston says. "And when I rolled up, I noticed there was a lot of wind, so I had a feeling that I should go back and give it another try. And I think that definitely turned out to be the right thing to do."
The skaters are delighted to be competing in Barcelona, which they say is a city that lends itself to skateboarding.
P-Rod says that's partly because of the style of architecture and the smooth granite and marble materials used in the city. The other part is that "The authorities don't seem to crack down so hard like back home in the States where they're savvy to skateboarders, especially in California. ... It's a nightmare sometimes," he says. "But you come here and it's really laid back.
"It's not like America, where everybody is sue-happy, and if someone gets hurt, they're going to sue somebody."
7 p.m., Olympic Stadium, Men's and Women's Enduro X
Within this stadium, Carl Lewis won two gold medals at the 1992 Olympics. But Lewis never had to run multiple laps around a 2,000-foot course that includes enormous mounds of dirt-like clay, piles of seven-foot-high tires, a matrix of logs, a pit of firewood and two sections of bowling ball-size boulders, as the Enduro X riders do.
On the other hand, rider Mike Brown says, Lewis "probably could get over the rocks faster than us."
Brown's not kidding. It can be slow going through those boulders. He wins the race, but only after a near catastrophe at the end when his bike gets stuck briefly within a rock pile.
Does Usain Bolt ever have to deal with this?
"I think this: It's a great spectator sport. I think it's going to be really big someday," women's silver medalist Maria Forsberg says of Enduro X. "We do trails, like woods racing [Grand National Cross Country races], but you can't really watch us. But it's great in a stadium like this, and there is so much carnage all the time and people changing in position; it's really fun to watch."
It is. This is the first time I've ever seen an Enduro race, and I find it entertaining because the course is so wonderfully over the top. It's like a miniature golf course for motorcyclists. It's the most demanding, frustrating, body-rattling stretch of transportation imaginable other than a commute through rush-hour traffic.
"I don't know what else they could add," Forsberg says. "Maybe we could jump through fire."
Fire? No, that's far too tame. The only hazard worse than what the athletes face now would be riding to the summit of a volcano through molten lava.
9:10 p.m., Olympic Stadium, Moto X Freestyle Final
I know this may be hard to believe, but evidently there are conditions too extreme for even the X Games. The Moto X Freestyle Final, in which athletes launch themselves through the air as if shot from a cannon (but without a net), is canceled due to heavy winds and earlier rain that limited practice time.
"There is nothing that can mess us up more in a freestyle run than the wind," says a disappointed Adam Jones. "I'm sure most people don't understand it can be such a big deal, but wind is really bad.
"When you're up there and you're pretty much weightless already and you let your body go of the bike in any way, the wind will just catch under your front tires or catch any part of you and take the bike completely sideways. A bike that was at one point underneath you no longer is. There is no way to know what it's going to do. It's pretty much the most unsafe thing for us."
Thus the X Games day ends. And as 50 Cent prepares to take the stage for a late concert, the crew brings in the bulldozers and earthmovers. It's time to prepare the stadium for Sunday's RallyCross Final. Another day at the X Games, another event to learn.
I better stock up on the Manchego cheese.