Twenty Years, 20 Firsts celebrates the 20-year legacy of the X Games in action sports with a collection of 20 of the most iconic first-trick moments in X Games history. The fan-vote component for the top moment concluded with Elena Hight taking the win just after X Games Austin, but the "World Of X Games" 20 Firsts show will count down the top 20 moments July 19 on ABC.
At X Games VIII in 2002, Mat Hoffman rolled into the vert ramp inside First Union Center in Philadelphia, took a few feeler airs, and then landed his name in the BMX history books for perhaps the 200th time. The trick that brought him there that weekend was the no-handed 900, an aerial in which Hoffman blasted out of the vert ramp and took 2½ rotations aboard the bike, removing his hands during the rotation.
He continued his run for a few more airs, but was so overjoyed that he slowed to a halt in the flat bottom of the ramp, and was immediately hugged by teammate Kevin Robinson. The crowd inside the arena erupted. "I'd been wanting to do that trick for about 13 years," Hoffman told ESPN reporters while still out of breath.
And it would be nine more years before any other BMX Vert rider landed the maneuver in competition -- it's just that difficult.
To accurately portray how incredibly formidable the maneuver is, it's necessary to trace the course of the original 900 air and its progression in BMX Vert. And that begins again, with Hoffman, who landed the first 900 air 25 years ago in Kitchener, Ontario.
Rumors of the 900 air began spreading some time in 1987 with a BMX Vert rider named Mike Dominguez, who attempted the trick in several competitions but never landed it. "He wouldn't deny or confirm that he actually landed it," says Hoffman. It would be two more years before Hoffman began pondering the possibility of landing the 900.
"I saved the  for the last trick of my final run in Ontario, and I felt it in me," says Hoffman. "I was airborne for two seconds, then boom! I landed low on the tranny but rode out of it. The stadium of Canadians went ballistic."
Following that contest, knowledge that Hoffman had achieved the once-thought impossible vert move slowly spread, and fans began to demand that Hoffman perform the trick in future competitions and demos. And eventually, fellow BMX Vert riders began experimenting with the 900 air.
Throughout the '90s, riders to gain admittance to the 900 club included Dennis McCoy, Simon Tabron, Jay Miron, John Parker and Jamie Bestwick, among others. But it remained elusive for most of the pro class -- it was typically the last trick to be thrown in a run, and not a consistent go-to maneuver for anyone except Hoffman.
By the time X Games landed in Philadelphia in 2002, Hoffman was moving past the competitive side of BMX Vert riding. He was pursuing big air opportunities, appearing in episodes of "Jackass," and pushing his riding outside the boundaries of standard competition. But the X Games presented a unique opportunity.
"I'm not interested in competition, but stages like the X Games, that let me throw down everything with a lot of people supporting you, it's a great vibe and you do things you don't normally do," Hoffman said at the time.
And ever since he landed his first 900, he dreamed of variations he could add to his repertoire, beginning with the no-handed 900. "I just got the confidence I could pull it off, and I couldn't stop thinking about it. This trick was really the whole reason I wanted to compete that year," says Hoffman. "Not really to compete, but to approach it more like a show and ride with the rest of the vert posse on the deck to get psyched up and go for it."
Indeed, Hoffman went for it. And in the process, he changed the course of BMX Vert yet again. To this day, there are only two BMX pros who have landed the no-handed 900 in X Games competition: Hoffman in 2002, and Steve McCann in 2011.
For Hoffman, X Games VIII, and the no-handed 900, would mark the last time he competed in BMX Vert at an X Games event. He now spends his time serving as sport organizer for BMX at X Games, and rides in his spare time on his backyard vert ramp in Oklahoma City. But he doesn't view his status as retired.
"You don't retire. You might do so from competition, but the sport is a way of life," says Hoffman. "The sport is a way you express yourself, it's art."