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X-Games Shine


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ASPEN, CO, Jan. 27 2004 (AP by John Marshall) — Lights, camera, action sports.

With flipping motorcycles, acrobatic snowboarders and speeding snowmobiles, there’s always plenty of excitement at the Winter X Games. Throw in some lights and live television, and this year’s event had plenty of amplitude, dude.

“Incredible enthusiasm around town,” said David Perry, executive vice president of Aspen Skiing Co. “You could not walk 10 feet without somebody asking about X, talking about X, (asking) ‘where are you watching X, which event are you going to?’ It completely consumed the town.”

The idea of going live started with the X Games last summer in Los Angeles, when ABC broadcast the finals of BMX vert. This year’s Winter X took it to the next level with four days of live television, including two hours in prime time each night.

ESPN’s four shows on the weekend averaged a 0.68 rating, up 11 percent from last year’s tape-delayed events, and had a 13 percent increase in households at 604,284. Ratings numbers for ABC and ESPN on Monday and Tuesday will come out later this week.

“I thought it translated really well on television, the atmosphere,” X Games general manager Chris Stiepock said.

Not that it was perfect.

Some of the athletes couldn’t hold their tongues and a few curse words slipped through on live television. Blizzard-like conditions on Saturday wiped out several practice rounds and postponed some events.

And delays between rounds — caused by television — left fans and competitors irritated as they waited up to 30 minutes in the cold.

“It was cool to watch, but it wasn’t much fun waiting around in those tents,” snowboarder Lindsey Jacobellis said.

Crime also proved to be a problem for the first time in Winter X’s three years in Aspen.

The Pitkin County Sheriff’s office said the crime rate was up from the previous two Winter X Games, with the worst of it coming after a record crowd of 23,900 fans attended the games Saturday. Deputies took at least 50 calls that night on everything from underage drinking to a fight at a hotel.

“Our mantra is to make this the best family event we possibly can,” Stiepock said. “If there’s anything that’s taking away from a positive family experience, we’re going to address it right away.”

But the rest of the games were off the chain.

At the Moto X course, thousands of fans lined up to watch riders flip and contort 250-pound motorcycles over a 90-foot gap.

They certainly saw plenty of action, from Brian Deegan’s bone-breaking freefall from 40 feet — which ESPN replayed dozens of times — to Caleb Wyatt’s no-hands, no-feet backflip that clinched the gold on Monday.

“Moto X riders are off the hook,” said Ed Klaus, who drove up from Gunnison with two friends to see the high-flying action.

That was wild, but the best action came in prime time.

It started with the women’s superpipe finals Saturday night, with boarders flying and flipping off the shiny walls as thousands of fans screamed from beneath their blankets and knit hats.

Temperatures dipped into single digits for the men’s superpipe preliminaries the next night, but it didn’t cool the enthusiasm.

Fans crowded the walls of the pipe and the base was jammed with rowdies who gave the night a mosh-pit feel. One group of teens even took off their shirts off in an effort to get on television.

“Everybody loves it under the lights,” men’s superpipe champion Steve Fisher said. “It makes for a great atmosphere.”

The hottest action came on the coldest night.

Despite a wind chill that dipped to minus-13, the largest crowd of the games huddled together to watch the men’s superpipe finals Monday night.

With red, sniffling noses and layer upon layer of clothes, thousands of fans fought through the shivering to scream and yell, making Winter X’s premiere event look like a rock concert.

“The lights made it so much more exciting,” said Francesca Gurney, who flew from Vermont with a friend to watch. “The atmosphere is wild and the riders are really going big. It’s a great show.”

Notes: Levi LaVallee, of Longville, Minn., grabbed an early lead and held on to beat Justin Tate, of Forest Lake, Minn., in the finals of snowmobile HillCross. It was the first Winter X Games medals for both riders. … Temperatures were so cold for the prime-time events that organizers started passing out hand warmers to fans. … Attendance was 65,200, more than 17,000 better than last year’s record of 48,000. … Simon Dumont won the ski superpipe with a 93.66, one run after Jon Olsson took the lead with a 91.33.

Copyright © 2000 The Associated Press