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Friday, July 31, 2009
Did Big Rail Save Big Air?

By Chris Nieratko
ESPN.com

Danny Way is part man, part machine gun. Switch 50-50 to win.

I imagine yesterday's Big Air was a bit of a let down to many since no one got hurt. The past two years we've seen Jake Brown nearly die and Danny Way get severly injured in all too gruesome fashion. That footage was played and replayed on every sports channel across the globe for people's "entertainment" much more than any of the makes. This year non-skater spectators were more than disappointed at Big Air with guys actually landing most of their tricks.

For many in the stands it seems it's the slam that they look forward to, much like Nascar fans waiting for the crash. It's really sad to think that a no-handed backside 360 across a huge cavern was looked at no differently than a fly ball hit to the outfield. I overheard one father in the stand point out to his on, "Oh, there he goes again."

Meanwhile yesterday's events had some serious drama. Two of our world's top guys, Bob Burnquist and Jake Brown, were neck and neck, tied for first place going into the final round and yet people seemed disenfranchised. They were waiting for that big slam, that never came (thank God). It takes serious balls to go up there and do that stuff. One of skating's legendery rippers, Chris Miller, said, "I'd have to skate vert every day for three months just to come even close to being able to do what these guys are trying." That comes from a guy that still shreds on the regular.

I wish there was a way to convey to the viewing public how gnarly Rob Lorifice's 540 rodeo is. Despite the fact THAT HE LANDED IT. But it's impossible. I feel as if our skating elite must be sacrificed to the lions in order for the world to take note.

Andy MacDonald pulls a lipslide during the Big Air Rail Jam.

Today introduced a new discipline: the big rail jam. Now guys must risk being impaled midway through launching a mega gap onto a metal rail. It's absurd. The only thing that could make it more intense is a ring of fire around the rail.

But the crowd at the Rail Jam today the got their money's worth. The poor dudes trying to launch the gap to the rainbow rail got repeatedly pummeled. Slam after slam after slam for 30 minutes and each time the crowd ooh'd and ahh'd louder and louder. They were hungry for blood as if they hoped the next slam would be harder than the last. I saw Danny Way yesterday and he was hobbled, limping along.

Today he was dropping in with fury in his eyes attempting death-defying switch 50-50s on a massive Big Air rail. For a half hour he drilled himself trying it; each fall got the crowd more and more into it. He'd hop on one leg off the flatbottom. Occasionally he'd skate off, showing that the muscle memory in his legs knew how to stand on a board better than walk. I saw an unbridled emotion from the spectators that just wasn't there yesterday for Big Air. With four minutes left in the jam Danny Way had zero points. He landed nothing. But he owned the crowd. He was Russell Crowe in the "Gladiator." And when he finally stuck that switch 50-50, the place exploded.

I wonder if Danny had landed that switch 50-50 within the first few tries would the crowd have cared? Would they have cheered the way they did? Would they understand Danny was the only one dropping in switch for the majority of the contest?

Maybe we need to have guided tours of the Big Air Ramp for everyone in the stands, for everyone in America for that matter, to stand at the top of the ramp and stare down the barrel of that gun and see what it is these skaters are looking at before each run. Maybe then they'll get a better understanding of how serious what these guys are doing is. This isn't driving in an oval for hours making left turns. Not to knock NASCAR but it is, at the end of the day, driving a car, which most people know how to do. No this is a specialized skill that very few men on earth possess. To skate at that level is to constantly run the risk of severe injury. I applaud anyone who drops in on any of the mega ramps. Hopefully, one day X Games viewers will do the same—when skaters land their tricks, not just when they fall.

Rob Lorifice pulling a back lip on the Big Air rail.