- Devon O'Neil, Writer, Action Sports
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LOS ANGELES --On a night when 15-year-old Mitchie Brusco and 12-year-old Tom Schaar landed the first Big Air 900s in X Games skateboarding competition history, the sport's veterans reminded its future stars that going big -- more than 8 feet higher than their pint-sized rivals in some cases -- still rules.
Brusco and Schaar's historic spins off the 27-foot quarterpipe were enough to qualify the fearless Californians for Friday night's Big Air final, but the top scores in Thursday's elimination round belonged to Brazilians Rony Gomes and Edgard Pereira and two-time gold medalist Jake Brown of Australia. Not that the crowd seemed to notice. When Brusco, who finished fifth last year in his ballyhooed X Games debut, stuck a 900 in the first of three heats, he thumped his chest and rushed to hug his mother while the spectators erupted.
Just two runs later, Schaar -- the only skater in history to land a 1080 -- matched Brusco with a 900 of his own, then landed another later in the round. Neither youngster, however, won his heat. Brown, 37, won the first heat with an 89.33 thanks to a massive McTwist that sent him more than 18 feet off the quarterpipe lip, then Gomes, 20, topped everyone with a 90.00 in the final heat. He landed a backside 360 over the 64-foot gap then a 540 off the quarterpipe that peaked nearly 20 feet above the lip.
"This is a MegaRamp contest," Brown said, addressing the disparity in scores between the veterans and the kids. "It's about going high. If I do a 1260 2 feet out, should I win?"
Gomes added: "A 900 is a technical trick, but I'm going high. I want to do a kick-flip over the gap and then a big 5, so maybe I don't need a 9. Maybe."
Among the 11 qualifiers who will join defending gold medalist Bob Burnquist in Friday's final, four are under the age of 16. That includes 11-year-old Jagger Eaton, the youngest athlete in X Games history, who landed a backflip over the gap on the first run of the night and qualified in a tie for 10th.
"When I dropped in," said Eaton, "the first thing I said to myself was, 'Don't die.'"
Fittingly, in an event that featured a 29-year age range between Eaton and 40-year-old Jocke Olsson of Sweden, one of the qualifiers is affectionately known as "Grandpa." That would be Pereira, a father of two and one of five Brazilians who will be in action Friday. He landed a body varial 360 over the gap and a body varial 540 on the quarterpipe. "I have a few tricks up my sleeve to step up my score for tomorrow," he said.
So do the two Southern California preteens who stuck 900s Thursday night. Schaar said he plans to try a 180 over the gap to a 1080 on the quarterpipe -- "that would be my goal run" -- and Brusco showed he's capable of more than just the 900 when he stuck an Ollie 360 over the gap and a kick-flip to hand-flip on the quarterpipe. Not bad for a kid who broke his wrist in May and hadn't skated for a month and a half before practicing this week.
"I came out here expecting to do terribly, and just got my mojo quicker than I expected," said Brusco, who had his cast removed Monday. "Just to know I'm going to compete tomorrow and do what I came here for, it's a weight off my shoulders."