X Games VIII kicks off today in Philadelphia

Posted: Thursday, August 15, 2002

PHILADELPHIA -- To stage the first X Games in 1995, ESPN sweated out a 4-3 vote from the city council of idyllic Newport, R.I.

Now the network is reviewing bids from about a half-dozen cities that want to play host to the event.

That's what growing popularity and an evolving sports scene will do.

As the eighth edition of the action sports event opens Thursday, the X Games have changed from those first formative years while leaving a lasting impact virtually everywhere.

Ron Semiao, one creator of the X Games concept who is ESPN vice president, programming and managing director of Global X Games, notes the effect the X Games have had on other sports.

''Primarily, the influence from the X Games is the recognition of the appeal that these sports have to kids,'' Semiao said. ''We see that across a lot of sports. NBA teams will bring bike stunt athletes to do demos at halftime. ... We are getting asked from the leagues, 'how can our sports stay in touch with yours?'''

While working in the programming department in August 1993, Semiao came up with the idea of the X Games.

''In these sports there were absolute professionals -- pro athletes, whose abilities were head and shoulders above the participatory groups of people,'' he said. ''These athletes came from all over the world. ... To the people who did these sports, they were more than just a recreational activity. There was lifestyle or culture about the sports.''

With these ideas in mind, ESPN held its first Extreme Games in Newport in the summer of 1995 with nine sports, including windsurfing, bungee jumping and mountain biking. Not all of these sports were hits.

''Sports come and go in the X Games,'' Semiao said. ''We had some sports that we thought were cool, like bungee jumping, which was a goof.''

The following year, the name of the event changed to X Games, and in early 1997, the first Winter X Games were held in California featuring events like snowboarding.

Although the list of events has changed from each X Games, the quality of the competition has steadily increased. Moto X, an event featuring motorcyclists doing various tricks while going over jumps, was added to the lineup for the 2000 X Games in San Francisco and has become one of the marquee events.

''Every year these guys are getting better," said Trevor Vines, a Moto X veteran, competing in his fourth X Games. ''Everyone keeps stepping up.''

The winning run from the 2000 X Games, ''probably wouldn't qualify,'' in this year's competition, he said. ''You probably wouldn't even qualify with a fifth place run from last year.''

While the X Games recognized the talent, look and culture of action sports, many other entities were slow in their acceptance.

The Olympic movement was late in expanding its program to include alternative winter sports like freestyle skiing and snow boarding.

Moguls did not become part of the official program until the 1992 Games in Albertville, France, and aerials did not join in until Lillehammer, Norway, in 1994.

Even when snowboarding was added for the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan, many top athletes skipped the Games, bristling under the restrictions regarding equipment, clothing and qualifying. Many of these athletes had participated in the less-strict Winter X Games several weeks prior.

The Winter Olympics showed signs of change at the Salt Lake City games, which featured raucous late night concerts and less traditional events like halfpipe snowboarding.

The 2002 edition of the X Games maintains the international nature of the competition, with athletes representing 20 countries. Much like its more-established counterparts, there were international qualifying events held in Malaysia, Spain and Brazil, as well as parts of the United States.

Although they are run by a cable network, the X Games are not televised live, unlike most sporting events. Semiao said this helps ESPN deliver a better product.

''It's not like we can't do it live,'' he said. ''The reason we don't do the X Games live is that our viewers tell us, 'We don't want them live.'''

''The kids say, 'I want the best show that you can give me.'''



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