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Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Updated: January 4, 9:44 AM ET
The Robbie Maddison Interview

By Ryan Leyba

Robbie Maddison is the Evel Knievel of the twenty first century. No, you know what? Scratch that. There is no way that Australia's Robbie "Maddo" Maddison should even be compared to the late great Evel Knievel. Yes, Evel Knievel deserves all the respect that one can throw at him, but what Maddo plans to do this New Year's Eve in Las Vegas is beyond anything that any one human has ever attempted. As the clock strikes midnight, Maddo plans to launch off his 35 foot-tall ramp and sail 100 feet into the sky before landing onto the Arc de Triomphe replica at the Paris hotel and casino on the Las Vegas strip.

I was shook when I read the first press release from Red Bull announcing the jump, but it wasn't until I saw the photos from his first practice session that it really hit me — can you imagine how he must have felt?

Robbie, how in heck did you come up with the idea to jump onto the Arc de Triomphe at the Paris hotel and casino in Las Vegas?

The idea just came from me just thinking what I could do next that would absolutely blow peoples minds and wasn't too far fetched to where it left me in a dangerous position. It was a hard call to make, but it just popped up out of my head you know? I was just thinking about how a jump works and I know that when you hit a super kicker, it gives you a really steep climb angle and then you hit that zero gravity point where you start to come back down. I figured at that stall point, you should be able to drop onto something quite effortlessly and pretty much just come to a stand still. So then I started thinking about what I could jump onto and I had this frame of mind that made me think that if the ramp is bigger and steeper, I should be able to go higher. So I started thinking, in a perfect scenario, pretty much the sky's the limit if you get the right angle and the right speed — you should be able to go as high as you want.

Then I just started getting really excited like thinking "Wow man, I'm going to be able to jump onto the roof of skyscraper." [laughs] I kind of got ahead of myself and started looking at huge buildings and I didn't know where to really draw the line or how I was going to make it happen. But, I know that even what I'm doing now — it should be possible to jump double that height, but I'm just starting off on a new idea, so I don't want to get too ahead of myself.

Then I spoke to the guys involved with the whole project and told them what I want to do. I said "I want to step onto the roof of a building and pretty much the sky's the limit." They asked how high I wanted to go and to be honest, I was kind of calling some big numbers in the start. [laughs] As we moved forward I decided that I should start somewhere that's respectfully big, but not biting off more than I can chew. Then we came up with the idea to jump onto the Arc de Triomphe in Vegas. The guys involved with Red Bull and this whole production said "Hey, we'd like to do this in Vegas again because it's a good backdrop. Do you know anywhere you might want to do this at?" I didn't really know of anywhere specific so we made a couple day trips out there and we looked at the coliseum and a lot of other places and the Arc de Triomphe was the one that made the most sense.

What were some of the hurdles that your production team had to jump through to get the right permission and make this become a reality? Was Paris pumped on the idea or did it take a lot of convincing?

I think it took a bit of convincing, but Paris is owned by the Harrah's group who owns the Rio and a bunch of property in Vegas and they were the people who we worked with last year doing the football field jump and that one went smooth, so that kind of paved the way to get the approval for this jump.

For those who can't quite wrap their heads around the jump itself, can you try to explain exactly what you'll be doing on New Year's Eve in Vegas?

The Arc de Triomphe is a to-scale version of the actual Arc, which is in Paris, France. It's 100 feet tall from the base to the top and what I'm going to try and do is jump my motorcycle from the street level to the 100 foot mark and land successfully on the top to do an interview and then shortly after that, I'll fire up the bike again and proceed to jump back off the roof back into a five-story high landing. The drop is still a 50 foot freefall, but if I do mess up, it could become a 100 foot freefall straight to the ground.

The landing ramp is on a 60 degree angle and it's 55 feet tall, so it's a big structure, but when you're up on the top of the Arc it kind of dwarfs it and makes it seem small. Just the angle that you have to land on is so steep that the landing's starting to prove to be the most difficult part of the whole jump. Because going up I'll be decelerating, but coming down I'll be gaining more and more speed.

Will you be riding a stock Yamaha YZ250 like you usually do or will you have a special bike with special modifications?

No, I'll be riding the same bike that I do for FMX, but I took off the cut-down seat and put on a normal height seat. [laughs] But yeah, it's my standard bike. Obviously I refreshed the motor and I'll be running some high octane fuel so that when the temperature drops at night in Vegas, the bike won't be affected as much and will still run on point. But other than that and some minor Enzo suspension mods and a Titanium FMF pipe and silencer, the bike is pretty much what you would buy from a Yamaha dealership.

How do you train for something this massive? Do you have a special jump to practice on that resembles the Arc de Triomphe?

Yeah, Red Bull built a special structure out of scaffolding that resembles the Arc. The take off ramp is a super kicker that's been tweaked and made giant for this jump. It's 35 feet tall and has a 70 foot footprint on it and the ramp itself is fully adjustable from 60 degrees to 90 degrees. So it's a purpose built, ramp for this specific jump and it actually looks insane. It looks like a rollercoaster track because it almost goes vertical, it's absolutely insane, but it's going to be a lot of fun.

The first couple of days, I was frightened to death by the ramp, but I went out to the Red Bull training facility and did some freefalls from the height that I'll be dropping from off the Arc de Triomphe, so I've been playing around with heights lately and I'm not getting as frightened as I was initially. But, the ramp itself has just been so much fun to jump, it's just so smooth and it shoots me so high in the sky. I'm also landing on a purpose built scaffolding tower to practice for this jump and the tower itself let's me have the deck height at anywhere from 50 feet above the ground to 100 feet above the ground. Where I'm at now is 75 feet above the ground, so we're working our way to the top and there's not too much further to go.

I heard that you have a mathematician guy at all of your practices calculating the arc of your jump as well as the speed needed to reach the height you want. How important is it to you to have someone like this helping you during this crucial time?

It's just an extra safety precaution on my behalf. It makes it so much easier having a guy there with a computer program that is capable of helping me better understand the trajectory of each jump. Instead of me saying "Alright, let's change the angle on the take off ramp and that should make me land here", I can actually punch the figures into the computer, like my speed and the angle of the ramp, and I can see my proposed flight path and that allows me to make a more calculated guess.

Do you ever feel the jeopardy you put yourself in?

Oh yeah, I definitely feel the danger that I'm putting myself in by doing this jump. At the start when I was getting into this jump, I was all excited and I was picturing myself jumping onto skyscrapers and even the Empire State building, but when it did become scary was a couple weeks before I came out to the Red Bull practice facility to actually jump onto the practice structure. Before that, I was taking each day as it came and focusing on my FMX career, but a couple weeks earlier I began to tremble and get really sick to the stomach because of what I was about to do and I was definitely concerned of my livelihood and what the future held for me, but that's how I got when I did the football field jump last New Year's Eve. I felt the same kind of nerves and began to question my ability and what I'd gotten myself into and that's just the natural way that human's feel when they know that they are about to push themselves and their abilities. I proved I'm human, but it's just one of those things. I know it wouldn't be a gnarly jump if I didn't feel that way. I spoke to my mom about it and she's like "No darling, it's natural that you feel like that so just keep true to what you want to do", so my mom made me confident on it. [laughs]

Do you think that jumps like this are good for the sport of motocross?

Yeah, I do for sure. I would never do anything that I thought was bad for my industry and I only want to help what I do and what other people like me like to do. Red Bull told me that they wanted to work with me to do a New Year's Eve jump and it was pretty much up to my discretion as to what I want to do, so to have that ability and power to just make a call and help take the sport to a new height is a cool thing. I think that with this jump, people can see that we're pushing the limits, so I think that this will give an all around respect for motorcycles and maybe even rejuvenate some of the old passion that people have lost — maybe some people have forgotten that they really love motorcycles, you know? I've been to that stage myself and sometimes you get away from something and you forget how much fun it is, so maybe this jump will remind a few people out there just how cool motorcycles are.

What would you want a random drunkard walking by your jump on New Year's to think?

I'd like them to look at that ramp and think "There's no way that mother fu**er's getting on that roof!" [laughs] Then I'd like to prove them wrong. That's what this is all about you know? I think when people saw that my landing on the football field and my ramp on the opposite end last year, nobody thought I would be able to clear it perfectly and I think that when you stand there and look at this Arc de Triomphe jump, there's going to be people saying "There's no way he's going to get up there."

I know I'm getting ahead of myself here, but what's next for you? Where can you possibly go from here?

You know, I'm just pumped to have the opportunity to be doing this and if they decide to give me the opportunity and want to use one of my ideas again, I'd be pumped. I've got a few written down and it's just a matter of going through them and seeing which ideas are realistic and which ones are not. I've got some pretty far fetched ideas, so maybe I can step up to the plate and double this 100 foot height next year.

This is a dangerous jump though. If something goes wrong and I hit the side of the Arc de Triomphe, there's a good chance I can miss the safety catch area below me. It's only a 20' by 20' box setup, so there is a lot of danger involved in this jump and it's not like it's a walk in the park for me. It's a risky jump and it's risking my whole freestyle career and my life for that matter. But, yeah, if I do get another opportunity next New Year's Eve, chances are I'll be doing something again that makes people think "That ain't possible."