Streak ends for original X Games foursome
BARCELONA, Spain -- The most exclusive club in X Games history is breaking up.
It's not because they want to. And it's not because a broken bone or shredded ligament finally overpowered their will to compete, after so many previous injuries did not.
No, the four men who have competed at every X Games since the inaugural event in Providence, R.I., in 1995 (you remember the Extreme Games, right?) are simply victims of circumstance. BMX Vert won't be held in Munich in June, which eliminates Dennis McCoy, the only BMX rider in a hallowed quartet that also includes skateboarders Bob Burnquist, Andy Macdonald and Rune Glifberg. BMX Vert also won't take place in Los Angeles in August, a fate shared by Skateboard Park, which is Glifberg's specialty.
The imminent end of their streak hung in the chilly drizzle here Wednesday as each man prepared for his 20th consecutive X Games appearance. They reminisced separately about near misses and favorite moments. At a news conference, skateboard superstar Nyjah Huston, 18, who debuted as the youngest X Games athlete in history at age 11, called them "legends" and said he hopes to last as long as they have. He is competing in his ninth straight X Games this week.
Next to the vert ramp, McCoy, with graying hair peeking out from under his cap, recalled dropping in for his first X Games run. His television bio already referred to him as the "grandfather of BMX," he said, quickly adding, "The tag was a bit premature."
At 46, McCoy is the oldest of the fabled foursome by seven years. Macdonald, at 39, ranks second. "It's just kind of an unspoken thing," Macdonald said of their bond. "We just know."
Action sports are not as punishing day in and day out as, say, UFC fighting or the NFL. But when gravity gets involved with concrete and hardwood, disaster is never far off. This is why it's hard to determine which is more impressive: that each of the four has remained in the elite echelon to continue being invited, or that each has remained healthy enough to accept those invitations.
Talent has never been an issue. Burnquist and Macdonald are the two most decorated skateboarders in X Games history, with 23 and 22 medals respectively. Glifberg has won 12 and McCoy has five, albeit none in the past 15 years.
Fighting through injuries has been a different challenge.
"I'm just a stubborn dude," said McCoy, who is in his 28th year competing professionally. "I don't have a lot of foolish pride -- I'm OK with going into a contest at 80 percent. I tore my ACL about a month before the 2000 X Games, so I just scheduled surgery to have it fixed the week after. I finished seventh. That paid for most of the surgery. Another time I tore ligaments in my wrist and again put off the surgery until after X Games."
Silly? Not if you're an action sports athlete. "The X Games are the one event that my grandma watches," said Travis Pastrana, adding context to the reach and resonance of X Games' events.
So you can understand why Glifberg, a 38-year-old Danish skateboarder and father of two from Copenhagen, would silence a few broken ribs with cortisone to ensure he competed in Los Angeles in 2005. Or why Macdonald took painkilling shots for three straight years leading up to the X Games to quell shooting pain in his wrist.
Burnquist says he's never taken cortisone. But he spent 20 hours in a wheelchair at the X Games last summer to heal a bad back injury he suffered during practice. "I'm sure my sponsors would be fine if I didn't skate," the 36-year-old said. "But it was beyond that. I was like, well, if I have to sit out, I'll sit out. But I'm going to try as hard as I can to be on that ramp in the finals. You just gotta will it, you know?"
Three days after his injury, Burnquist held off a pack of teenagers to win Big Air gold.
In fact, three of the fabled foursome earned medals within the past year. "I know I'm older than most of the guys competing in the X Games, but I don't feel old," Glifberg said, wincing as his daughter Tallulah picked at a fresh wound on his knee. "I just took a silver medal [in Men's Skateboard Park at X Games Foz do Iguaçu Brazil]. I still feel relevant and current against everyone else."
Added Macdonald: "I wouldn't be doing this if I were just trying to milk it."
A lot has changed since their streak began. They all agreed the events are more authentic and credible now. "The first few years, I competed mostly because of Brazil and because people got to watch it," Burnquist, a Rio de Janeiro native, said. "I just went to represent, because it was so not my world. There was that clash, like, is this cool or is it not? And now, obviously it's the place to be."
Despite the pride they share, the four originals are rarely together due to conflicting schedules within each event. Last month in Brazil, however, Glifberg, McCoy and Macdonald bumped into each other at registration. Glifberg posted an Instagram photo of them standing arm in arm, lamenting that Burnquist wasn't there too.
It was tagged "OG Extreme Games posse."