BMX Big Air at X Games 17 finished up Thursday with Steve McCann taking the win, but to be honest, it was a tough contest to watch. Throughout the night, the seven invited riders, including McCann, Chad Kagy, Vince Byron, Colton Satterfield, Zack Warden, Anthony Napolitan and Jed Mildon, all took punishingly harsh falls. And in the end, Kagy left on a stretcher with a leg injury, while the rest of the field limped away from the competition, bruised, battered and beaten down by the rigors of riding the MegaRamp.
Naturally, Big Air contests are dangerous, but Thursday's affair was by far the most brutal display of the MegaRamp biting back that I have seen since the discipline was introduced into the X Games in the mid '00s. But it wasn't just X Games finals that were rough for Big Air competitors -- we need to go back to the beginning of the summer, before X Games 17 arrived.
The scene was set, Big Air riders were invited, and then, riders started going down. First up was 2010's Big Air Bronze Medal winner Andy Buckworth, who ruptured his spleen in June and was forced to pull out of X17's Big Air competition. Then, in early July, Morgan Wade ruptured his spleen at a MegaRamp contest in Brazil and was forced to pull out of Big Air. Last week, Big Air invite James Foster broke his leg, and also had to opt out. And finally, just days ago, Coco Zurita fractured his ankle and that was the end of his Big Air appearance at X.
So even before the X Games arrived in LA, the Big Air field was down by four competitors. Then, just as the sun set over Los Angeles, the carnage continued.
-- McCann went over the handlebars twice on double frontflip attempts and slammed brutally hard.
-- Vince Byron landed so hard out of an air that his handlebars practically sheered off of his bike. After landing a successful run, he sat out the rest of the contest, unable to continue to compete because his bike wasn't rideable.
-- Zack Warden attempted backflip bike flips over the gap and failed to land any of them, sliding down the MegaRamp and trying to avoid his bike, which was falling out of the sky.
-- Jed Mildon attempted several double backflips over the gap, and again, he was catapulted from his bike, trying to avoid the wrath of his bike landing on top of him at speeds upwards of 30 miles per hour.
-- And finally, after landing a double backflip, Chad Kagy went for a tailwhip flair at height on the quarterpipe. Kagy missed getting back on his bike and was forced to abort. He fell back into the ramp, slid down the transition and lay at the bottom, unable to move. He was cognizant, and able to wave to his fans, but he was taken away on a stretcher.
Dropping in to a contest after one of your close friends and riding companions just went down hard is a tough thing to accomplish. But McCann did just that, nailing a winning run and walking away with the gold medal in Big Air.
McCann later said in his exit interview that injuries come with the territory. And that does seem to be the case. But watching these riders lay it on the line Thursday and come out on the losing end of a fight against the MegaRamp is not something I enjoy.
Of course, I am for the progression of riding, and riders pushing themselves, and the new tricks that have come out of BMXers riding MegaRamp. But sometimes, as was the case with this summer's string of injuries leading up to Thursday's event, along with the injuries here in LA, I'm forced to ask myself if it's really worth it.
I know Kagy will say that riding Big Air is worth it, but that doesn't make it any easier to see one of the world's most accomplished BMX Big Air riders being wheeled away on a stretcher.
My thoughts go out to Kagy for a speedy recovery, and to all of the BMX Bir Air competitors for rolling with the punches.