X Games Minneapolis 2017 | How the Biggest Event in Action Sports Continues to Stay at the Top of the Pile
We look back at the progression and hunt for perfection at X Games 2017 in Minneapolis
Picture the perfect skate bowl. Now imagine it next to a bunch of sparkling street features, sitting just across from a dream BMX dirt track and lying in the shadow of an enormous megaramp, towering over the rest of the set up at almost 60 metres tall.
Stick all of that in the middle of a 70,000 seater stadium and gear the bowls and parks out with shipwreck-style features to honour the regular occupants of the arena - the Minnesota Vikings NFL franchise.
Finally, pack it out with fans and let loose almost 200 of the most talented action sports athletes the world has ever seen.
Welcome to X Games 2017, the first ever held in Minneapolis. Lights. Camera. Action.
The X Games is by far the biggest event on the action sports calendar. Since it was first introduced as the alternative games way back in 1995 it has grown year on year, constantly being driven forward by the progression of the athletes and morphing into an absolute monster of the modern scene.
This year over 110,000 fans flocked into the stadium over the course of the four-day event, with millions more watching on from home as mainstream television streamed it live and Samsung even offered a stunning live stream in virtual reality.
Possibly the most impressive thing about the Games is that they never fail to surprise or find a way to progress further. Who could have called that we’d be watching the contest in VR one day when Tony Hawk was throwing down the first ever 900 way back in 1999?
Legends like Hawk, Mat Hoffman and Travis Pastrana have to be thanks for making the contest what it is today, and their legacy of progression has lived on long past the days when they were competing for medals themselves.
The 2017 edition was no exception to the rule.
Skater Brighton Zeuner became the youngest person to ever win an X Games gold medal after claiming the top prize in women’s park one day after her 13th birthday. Yes, you read that right. Zeuner was 12 two days before she competed in park finals. She has braces, likes Beyonce and Nicki Minaj, and enjoys painting her nails. The first thing she did as a teenager was to win the X Games gold. When we were 13 we were just happy to be able to pop a wheelie then sit back down with a bag of Doritos and pretend we were Tony Hawk on our Game Boy. Zeuner is like a real-life video game character.
Brighton wasn’t the only one driving the progression, either. Colby Raha took the gold in the Moto X QuarterPipe High Air in his first ever X Games, flying 355 inches high from the ramp, 14 clear of his nearest competitor.
BMX Vert star Vince Byron proved he wasn’t just lucky when he put an end to Jamie Bestwick’s record-breaking nine-year winning streak back in 2015 by beating Bestwick to gold again this year, and Vert skater Moto Shibata became the first Japanese gold medallist in the history of the X Games when he threw down a winning run on the same ramp.
Skate vert was just one of the disciplines streamed live in awesome virtual reality exclusively to the Gear VR headset and mobile app. As well as the Vert, Samsung streamed the BMX Street final and Skate Street Am final as well. Many more events will no doubt be streamed in virtual reality in years to come now that the precedent has been set.
Samsung are no newbies to VR streaming. UFC and live concerts are just a couple of the other offerings they've rolled out in virtual realty before or will be rolling out soon, and excitement around the technology seems to be increasing all the time. Nearly five million units of the Samsung Gear mobile VR device were shipped out last year. Going on those numbers and the speed with which technology advances, it seems like only a matter of time until VR is in every household, and where better to progress that tech than at the X Games - a tournament defined by the state-of-the-art.
15 year old Aori Nishimura from Tokyo is another perfect example of this cycle of progression in the Games. Aori rides in the women's skateboard street and followed up on Moto Shibata's success to claim a second gold for Japan in only her second ever X Games, beating out the likes of three-times gold medallist Leticia Bufoni, who still went home happy with a bronze.
"I think the skate park was really nice this year," Bufoni told us after the event. "It was smaller than last year. I really enjoyed the skating. Last year I didn’t really like the course.
"I just enjoy the whole event though. It’s one of the only contests a year where we get to meet our friends and hang out with everyone and watch the other sports. I really like motocross, so I have a lot of fun watching it as well!"
Bufoni's 22-year-old compatriot, Brazilian rookie Kelvin Hoefler beat eight-time gold medallist Nyjah Houston to the top prize in men’s skateboard street in only his second ever X Games meanwhile, with hometown hero Alec Majerus coming in with the silver and leaving Houston with the bronze.
That’s two X Games in a row without the gold for Nyjah, though we imagine he’ll be remedying that in years to come. He’s certainly got plenty of time ahead of him. It’s easy to forget that having first competed in the X Games in 2006 when he was only 11 years old, Nyjah is still only 22 years old himself.
As one Brazilian skater announced his arrival on the big stage though, the biggest of them all rode out for the final time at the X Games.
With 30 medals to his name Rio de Janeiro legend Bob Burnquist has more X Games medals than anyone else on the planet. Having competed and made history in the contest since day one, the 40 year old has finally now decided to call it a day.
Burnquist will always be remembered for his winning 2001 Vert run in particular, in which he laid down new trick after new trick to the point where commentator Tony Hawk was left searching for words. To be fair to Tony, it’s not easy to commentate on a run where most of the tricks have only just been invented. The run scored a 98 out of 100.
There’s no doubt that it’s legends like Hawk and Burnquist that made the X Games what it is today, but it’s the development of both the showcase itself and the riders who are still at it keeping it relevant.
The move to the huge U.S Bank Stadium in Minneapolis is the perfect example of this. It not only gave the contest a new lease of life, it’s allowed more of the events to take place in the same area, so the fans can access each of the disciplines a lot easier - and the athletes can do the same.
BMX Dirt star Ben Wallace told us: “You can view everything in the stadium from pretty much everywhere. Previously at venues like Circuit of the Americas [in Austin] everything was spread far apart, so you didn’t really get to see a great deal. It’s exciting."
And on the riding front, you need not worry about a lack of progression or new ideas. Nothing is taken for granted.
“X Games is always special to me," admitted Garrett Reynolds to us after winning his latest gold in Minneapolis. “This one in particular was special because I wasn’t expecting to win when I first rode the street course. I was kind of struggling to get lines to work for me."
"I grew up watching X Games on TV with my family – mostly my brothers. Never in a million years did I think I’d end up in the contest, yet alone winning it..."
Garrett Reynolds is a stalwart of the X Games now, having won eight out of the nine BMX Street contests ever competed at the tournament. He continued: “It’s very surreal to me. I grew up watching X Games on TV with my family – mostly my brothers. Never in a million years did I think I’d end up in the contest, yet alone winning it."
Ask any of the riders in any of the disciplines and you’ll get a similar answer. These are men and women who have been watching the tournament since they were able to crawl, and who have been inspired by their heroes to pick up the gauntlet and keep the movement going.
While the likes of Burnquist may have now departed, Kelvin Hoefler, Brighton Zeuner, Nyjah Houston and many more remain in the ranks to make sure the X Games will never stop progressing, will never stop surprising, and without a shadow of a doubt, will never disappoint.
See you next year, Minneapolis.