Editor's note: Doug Parsons is a former athlete who is on the committee that determines FMX invitations for X Games.
In action sports, X Games is the one event that all freestyle motocross riders consider the holy grail of contests. It is the most coveted and exclusive event to be a part of. All year long, everything an FMX rider does is geared toward getting that invitation.
Typically, invitations to compete in a Moto X event at X Games are reserved for the sport's most elite athletes -- those who are pushing the boundaries of the sport -- and the previous year's winners (the gold, silver and bronze medalists from each previous X Games Moto X event are given automatic invites back to compete).
Nevertheless, it's not easy getting an invitation to compete at X Games. Some would go as far as to say that simply being invited to compete at X Games is an accomplishment in itself.
In the first several years that Moto X was included in the X Games, qualifying events, known as the X Trials, took place to determine who would compete. In the early 2000s, the X Games dropped the X Trials and focused on the main X Games events, prompting a switch to an invite-only process.
All of a sudden, the stakes became a lot higher. Athletes no longer competed in qualifying events to acquire points that would lead to an X Games invite. But attaining an invite was not taken 100 percent out of the hands of the Moto X athlete. Athletes can still take certain avenues to ensure their inclusion in the X Games invite process.
X Games senior director of content strategy and sports and competition Tim Reed said performance and outside competition results play a hand in the decision process. "In terms of guys or girls breaking through, elite performance and competition results will always be the biggest factor in terms of selection," Reed said.
But it's not X Games staff making the call. "The invite selection process is managed through our sport organizers. The X Games rely on [the sport organizers] and their network of industry experts to ultimately make the invite decisions," Reed said.
These experts, former athletes and industry insiders use their vast knowledge of the current FMX times to determine who gets an invite.
Paul Taublieb, who oversees the freestyle motocross events as sport organizer at X Games, said the event is not the place to come to prove one's self.
"We look to see that [an athlete] has proven themselves in some other venue, because we think our event is the pinnacle of the sport," said Taublieb. "It could be through other competitions, it could be through video or it can be a reputation the experts feel that this guy has established himself on some level where he should be part of the X Games."
For aspiring FMXers seeking an invite, building a name in the sport is key.
Some of the best, proven ways to get on the X Games committee's radar include participating in FMX demos, filming video sections, freeriding with top riders and receiving general media exposure from the popular FMX Internet sites and magazines.
Riding in FMX demos proves to the sport organizers that an athlete can perform when it's go time in front of a crowd. X Games Foz do Iguaçu Moto X Step Up (a high jump on dirt bikes) gold medalist Bryce Hudson attests to the value of riding in demos.
"Demos help to build athlete credibility, because no one can really be thrown in on a big spotlight like that and be expected to perform. You've got to have some experience in showing that you can perform in front of a crowd," said Hudson, who was also set to compete in Freestyle and Speed & Style before breaking his leg in a practice accident in Foz do Iguaçu.
Videos are a key part in building a rider's name, by revealing their true bike skills. But the days of videos being a primary reason for an invitation are long gone. As FMX has evolved and grown, riders must have more than one trick in their repertoire.
As in other careers, business is done and deals are made because of the connections someone makes. Freeriding is a perfect example of networking and maintaining contact with influential riders and industry people to build your credibility.
"Sometimes it's based on someone's freeriding or reputation that someone on the committee feels should be at X Games," Taublieb said. "It's a different process because there is no formal process."
Having an agent or a manager pull for his or her athlete is also an added benefit. The last thing a rider wants to do is sit on the phone and sell himself or herself. Time is better spent riding.
And this was the case for Hudson, 22. Not really having much of a name on which to sell himself, Hudson concentrated on building up his reputation on the Moto X scene. His agent, Dan McGranahan, took care of business behind the scenes. McGranahan helped to build up Hudson's reputation as an athlete who would do well in the scope of X Games competition.
Hudson's persistent hard work on the bike, coupled with McGranahan's behind-the-scenes efforts, ultimately paid off with X Games gold last month in Brazil. But there are other circumstances to consider.
What if someone is an all-around good FMX rider with a solid name and a proven track record in other events but still can't manage to get an X Games invitation?
Lance Coury, 23, can identify. Coury was trying to get invited throughout his career as a Moto X Speed & Style (which combines freestyle with elements of Supercross racing) athlete. Three years ago, he was given an invite to compete at X Games in Los Angeles. But two weeks before the event, he dislocated his elbow and was forced to give up his invite to an alternate. It took Coury three years to regain the X Games invitation he had lost to injury.
"X Games is the top of our sport, the cream of the crop; I believe it is what every FMX rider wants to be [in], and every athlete in action sports for that matter," Coury said. "And to want to be in it and not [make] it is hard because there are only so many spots they have available. And it's a difficult task to get in because there are so many great athletes."
Ultimately, Coury did receive an invitation to X Games Foz do Iguaçu in April. He took gold in the Moto X Speed & Style event and will return to defend it at X Games Barcelona. But he was forced to push hard for three years (riding 69 shows in 23 days last year, for example) before that opportunity presented itself again.
The sport of freestyle motocross has only a small number of elite riders, yet many veterans are still competitive. This makes it difficult for riders to break through when just eight to 12 riders are in each of the four FMX disciplines at X Games. One to two spots created every year by guys who filter themselves out -- either because of injury or retirement -- are the toughest invites for which a global field of riders are competing.
Up-and-coming riders need to keep their game tight, practice tricks until they can be done instinctually on command and line up as many demos as possible to prove to promoters they are worthy of putting on a show. Riders need to make videos to get their names out there on the FMX radar screen. And most of all, the best way to ensure a rider gets an invite is to have something new. FMX is about progression and invention.