TV Guide, June 1999

    The Extreme Team
    Meet the men and women who put the X in the X Games.

    By Bruce Kluger

    This week, ESPN’s X Games—the Super Bowl of extreme sports
    competition—will celebrate its fifth anniversary, reaffirming what is now
    referred to in TV circles as the Conan O’Brien Rule: If you’re on the air
    for four years, you’re still getting your sea legs; when you make it to
    year five, you’ve arrived.

    To be sure, the X Games have claimed an avid following since their launch in 1995.
    This year more than 450 of the world’s most pumped and primed athletes will
    converge on San Francisco to compete in nine different extreme sport categories
    and 24 disciplines—from aggressive in-line skating, stunt biking and skateboarding
    to street luge, sky-surfing and big-air snowboarding. Over the last half-decade, the
    Games have expanded their worldwide reach, becoming a bona fide franchise that
    includes televised trial events, international exhibitions, CDs, books—and, of
    course, the Games themselves. This week, ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC will broadcast
    almost 40 hours of the Games, as ESPN’s international distributor simultaneously
    whips the signal around the globe.

    But what good is an event like this without a few stars to keep fans in their seats?
    Of the army of hopped-up hopefuls who will descend on California this week, we’ve
    picked seven who are sure to deliver the goods. Fasten your seat belts, sports

    Fabiola Da Silva
    Age: 19
    Born: São Paulo, Brazil
    Competition: In-Line Skating (Vert)

    Only in America—or make that South
    America. Fabiola da Silva was barely 16
    when she stumbled onto the sport that would
    one day bring her worldwide fame. She’d
    been tooling around her neighborhood skate
    park in São Paulo when she caught the eye
    of professional in-liner Chris Edwards, who
    quickly spread the word about the girl with
    the dazzling moves—and looks. Soon Fabiola
    was being invited to American competitions sponsored by the Aggressive Skaters
    Association (ASA); and when she entered her first X Games in 1996, she never
    looked back: At this year’s Games she’ll go for an unprecedented fourth
    consecutive gold medal in the women’s vertical (also know as the fearsome half-
    pipe). “Every year the level of competition gets higher,” says the diminutive Fabiola,
    who is looked upon by the other women in her sport as a role-model and
    undisputed queen of the vert. “That means we’ve got to keep learning new tricks.”
    When she’s not in competition—which is rare—Fabiola tries to lead a normal life in
    Santa Rosa, CA, going to the movies (“I love Julia Roberts”), clothes shopping (“I’m
    sponsored by Gap, so I buy Gap”), and spending time with her boyfriend, who is
    also a professional in-line skater. “He won’t be competing at the X Games this year
    because he didn’t qualify,” explains Fabiola. “But he’s nice about it. He’s a pro.”

    Jenny Curry
    Age: 15
    Born: San Luis Obispo, CA
    Competition: In-Line Skating (Street)

    Although she’s among the youngest X Games
    competitors, 15-year-old Jenny Curry is clearly on a fast
    track. In just three years, she’s soared from amateur to
    pro, collecting a raft of medals along the way in national
    and international meets, including a Gold in the 1998 X
    Games. She’ll defend that title this year skating her
    trademark category: women’s street, the wild, scrappy
    cousin of the vert and downhill events. “Basically you
    skate through lots of ramps and rails, and have 60
    seconds to do as many tricks as you can,” she says. “With
    all the spins and flips, you have to be fit and you have to
    be fast.” Indeed, Curry keeps in shape on neighborhood streets (“It’s illegal to
    street-skate where I live,” she confesses, “but I take my chances”), and even
    manages to find time for a personal life (she’s currently mid-courtship with a boy
    she likes—via email). Yet while she projects that inimitable bearing that comes with
    being a sports superstar, Curry can’t help but let the teenager peek through on
    occasion:. Her most memorable moment in the ’98 Games, for example, was not a
    near-spill nor her gold medal victory. Rather, it was when “all the other girls and I
    bought the same ugly green checkered golf pants and wore them on live TV during
    the competition. It was a riot.”

    Biker Sherlock
    Age: 30
    Born: Lavallette, NJ
    Competition: Street Luge

    He’s been dubbed “Mr. Flamboyant” by
    his rivals, and is known for his ear-
    piercing “Woooo!” when he lands a
    victory—which is often. Biker Sherlock
    returns to the X Games this week to
    see if he can add more medals to the
    four golds and two silvers he’s racked
    up since first entering the Games in
    1996. His extreme vehicle is the street luge, an eight-foot, lie-down body board built
    from aircraft aluminum and capable of reaching speeds of 70 miles-per-hour. “I’d
    already been competing in downhill skateboarding when I was first introduced to the
    luge,” remembers Sherlock, “and I said to myself, ‘Hey, I’ve been doing the same
    thing standing up.’ After one day on the luge, none of my friends could beat me.
    Four months later, I won the gold at the X Games.” Sherlock, whose real love is big
    wave surfing, likes to hone his luge skills on the canyon roads of an Indian
    reservation an hour from his San Diego home. Off-course he runs his own
    skateboard and event promotion companies, both of which he launched with his
    girlfriend, Amy. This year, fans expect Sherlock to pour it on at the Games, after
    being upstaged in ’98 by good buddy Rat Sult, who took two golds to Biker’s one.
    But Sherlock keeps it all in perspective. “I’m not about winning,” he says. “Sure
    there’s a toggle switch in your head that flicks on the competition whenever a race
    begins. But the next day it’s back to surfing with your friends.”

    Andy Macdonald
    Age: 25
    Born: Boston, MA
    Competition: Skateboarding

    “To call skateboarding an extreme sport is
    disconcerting to me,” insists Andy
    Macdonald. “It has nothing to do with sky-
    surfing or barefoot waterskiing or that
    glorified butt-boarding they call the street
    luge. I mean, I don’t want to sound like I’m
    trash-talking, but skateboarding is a serious
    sport that deserves its own venue.” Despite
    his protests, Macdonald has helped establish
    his chosen competition as the most eagerly
    watched event in the extreme universe. Along with friend, teammate and perpetual
    rival Andy Hawk (see box), Macdonald and his board have dominated the X Games
    since their inception in 1995, piling up four golds and two silvers in all three
    skateboard events. And because of his ambidexterity (he skates both vert and
    street), he has often been ranked as the world’s best skateboarder—period. “Mom
    bought me my first board for Christmas when I was 14,” says Macdonald, whose
    signature style includes technical proficiency coupled with tightly strung together
    flips and tricks. “I’ve been competing ever since I learned that the local skate shop
    held contests in its back parking lot.” Unlike many in his sport, Macdonald, who lives
    in San Diego, doesn’t intend to open his own skateboarding business one day (“I
    barely have enough time to spend with my girlfriend,” he says). But that doesn’t
    stop him from passing along his magic at workshops and skate camps. “There’s
    nothing in the world like watching kids make their first drop-in from a twelve-foot
    ramp,” he says. “Their faces light up like you wouldn’t believe.”

    Barrett Christy
    Age: 28
    Born: Buffalo, NY
    Competition: Big Air Snowboarding

    Barrett Christy was content to wait. Although the
    snowboarding beauty from Vail, CO, had effortlessly
    tallied gold and silver medals in a host of events at the
    Colorado-based Winter X Games, she wasn’t sure the
    technology was up to transplanting her specialty—the Big
    Air event—to the Summer Games in California. “I’m used
    to riding on real snow,” says Christy, “and I was hesitant
    about making the transition to a manmade structure
    covered with snow carpet and ice chips. So I sat out the ’
    97 and ‘98 Summer Games.” Which makes her debut in
    the Big Air event this week in San Francisco that much
    more exciting. Having competed in pro snowboard
    competitions as far back as 1993 (“not during the sport’s
    infancy,” says Christy, “but definitely during its toddler
    years”), she has parlayed her high-flying moves and camera-friendly looks into a
    career that has taken her from the U.S. Open to the X Games to the 1998 Winter
    Olympics. “I didn’t do so well in Nagano,” she confesses. “I folded under pressure
    and the weather wasn’t so great, either.” That hasn’t dampened her spirit one bit. In
    addition to tackling the Summer X Games, Christy is maintaining close ties with her
    sponsor, Nike, which has featured her in its commercials (yes, that was Christy
    boarding off a building in a recent campaign) and is working with her on developing
    a special snowboard boot. And to answer the million-dollar question, gentlemen:
    Yep, she’s taken. “My boyfriend is also a snowboarder,” Christy admits. “To be
    honest, no one outside the sport would put up with all this.”

    Dave Mirra
    Age: 25
    Born: Syracuse, NY
    Competition: Bicycle Stunts

    They call him "Miracle Boy," and with good reason.
    He has lost his spleen in a bike accident, been hit
    by a car, and endured countless bodily injuries in
    pursuit of perfecting his craft. And yet he keeps on
    winning. When Dave Mirra climbs aboard his stunt
    bike at this week’s X Games, he hopes to continue
    a streak that has landed him a staggering eight
    medals—six gold, two silver—since ESPN
    christened the games in 1995. When he copped
    gold in last year’s street competition, he joined in-
    line whiz Fabiola da Silva as the only other athlete
    to pull off a three-peat in a single X Games event. “I suppose I’m known for my
    consistency,” says Mirra, who began racing dirt bikes at 10 and competing on
    ramps at 13. “I can put a run together pretty well, and that takes both technical
    knowledge and confidence.” Although in his routines Mirra will nonchalantly string
    together mesmerizing moves—a 360-degree spin, say, followed by a double tail
    whip and a peg stand atop a 14-foot wall—he knows firsthand that big stunts aren’t
    always the key to victory. “There are a few competitors out there who ride bigger
    than me,” he explains, “but if they crash it’s all over. So you have to know when to
    ride big and when to pull it in.” It’s also in his best interest to play it safe, after all his
    many sponsors—among them Adidas, Slim Jim and Haro cycles (which has issued
    the Mirra signature bike)—need him in one piece. Off wheels, Mirra passes time
    planting trees on the lawn of his Greenville, NC, home, and kicking back with his
    girlfriend, a competing gymnast. “I've come to enjoy the domesticated life,” he says.
    Until the next race, that is.

    Tony Hawk
    Age: 31
    Born: San Diego, CA
    Competition: Skateboarding

    He’s as close to a legend as any competitor you’ll
    see at the X Games. Alternately referred to as “the
    Michael Jordan of skateboarding,” and “skater of
    the decade,” Tony Hawk has dominated his sport
    for the past 16 years, magically willing his 32-by-9-
    inch slab of laminated maple to do his bidding on
    the giant slopes of the half-pipe. His stock in trade
    is an endless parade of personally coined stunts—
    from the Madonna to the Stale Fish to the “720” (a
    360-degree mid-air somersault done twice)—all of
    which leave judges and fans shaking their heads in
    disbelief. He has medaled in virtually every major
    tournament around the world; and has evenly
    shared top honors with his friend and frequent
    opponent Andy Macdonald over the course of four X Games. “To some degree,”
    says Hawk, “the intensity and focus of skateboarding is diluted during the X Games
    because of all the other extreme events featured there. On the other hand,” he
    quickly adds, “the Games give us more media exposure than any other tournament
    worldwide, so we’re more than happy to rise to the occasion.” Off the ramp, Hawk is
    no less versatile than his four-wheeled alter ego. He and his board have adorned
    an endless stream of ad campaigns—from AT&T to Gatorade to Got Milk?—and his
    company, Birdhouse Projects, has become a mini-juggernaut, producing quality
    skateboards and skating apparel. He and his wife live in San Diego with their two
    small sons—both of whom have skateboards in their future.

    A Tale of Two Boards
    In a week crammed with edge-of-your-seat action,
    here’s what promises to be the edgiest.

    “A lot of people don’t know this,” says Andy Macdonald, trying to keep a straight
    face, “but Tony Hawk and I made a deal back in 1995. We decided to take turns
    winning the vertical singles in the X Games.”

    Macdonald is joking, of course, but from way the record book reads, a secret pact
    certainly seems plausible. Since the X Games’ launch in 1995, Macdonald and
    Hawk—the Games’ undisputed board kings—have evenly shared the gold medal
    for the men’s vert singles, Hawk winning it in ’95 and ’97, Macdonald taking the
    honors in ’96 and last year. And to add poetry to the symmetry, the team of Hawk
    and Macdonald have easily iced the gold in the doubles vert, ever since that event
    was added in 1997.

    Consequently, as every sports enthusiast knows, that makes the men’s single vert
    at the ‘99 Games the all-important rubber match. But don’t tell that to the boys.
    “The media likes to make us rivals,” says Macdonald, “but the truth is, we’re
    buddies—always have been. We participate in the same sport, we’re endorsed by
    the same company (Swatch), we’re even partners in the doubles event.”
    Hawk concurs. “It truly is coincidental that the golds in the singles have broken
    down the way they do. Andy and I genuinely don’t have a rivalry. Look,” he
    continues, “the whole skateboarding team performs around the world with each
    other. We’re like this giant traveling summer camp. We all root for each other, with
    no animosity. I think the media needs to create this tension to keep people

    Uh-huh. Like we said, the vert singles is the one to watch.
Boys on board: Champs Tony Hawk (left) and Andy Macdonald will face-off again in the high-flying men's vert.