It's a little hard to comprehend, but there are people out there who haven't heard about Red Bull X-Fighters. I guess I take knowing about these events for granted because I've been involved with alternative sports and people for many years. For those who don't know, Red Bull X-Fighters was created in 2001 and it has grown to become the biggest and most respected freestyle motocross tour in the world.
The series of events features many of the world’s best FMX riders throwing up the most mental, death-defying tricks in some of the most stunning locations across the globe. For 2014, the World Tour kicked off in Mexico City on 14 March, from there it was off to Osaka, Japan on the 25th May, then to Madrid, Spain on the 27 June and most recently Munich, Germany on the 19th July. South Africa was lucky enough to be chosen as the final destination. Pretoria’s Union Buildings would be the backdrop to all the action on Saturday, August 23rd.
Practice and Qualifying - Friday 22nd
At Friday's press conference we got to see legendary Red Bull FMX athlete Ronnie Renner chat to event favourite Levi Sherwood and local wildcard entrant Nick de Wit. Listening to the guys talk about the events leading up to the final put things in perspective. There was a lot riding on this final round for the top three favourites, and you'd expect that the guys would have taken it easy in the practice preceeding the press conference, but they actually went all out making us, and the public following the Red Bull X-Fighters on social media, get a hell of a lot more excited.
After the media bit we were taken through to the arena where we got to check out the pits, meet the riders (and take the obligatory seflies) and then walk the track. I'd seen the pics of the course during construction and it looked pretty impressive, but the only way to really appreciate the scale of things was to get on to the track. It was the biggest course built in the 2104 series and it also featured the biggest temporary grandstand SA has ever seen, capable of seating 5000 FMX fans. These Red Bull chaps certainly like to take things to another level.
With the media stuff out of the way, the riders kitted up and headed out on track for qualifying. Now I've watched many X-Fighters videos online and I covered Nitro Circus when it was here, but seeing these guys do their thing in person left me speechless. Well, I was able to talk but when I did I ended up stuttering like an overexcited kid. The height and technical aspects of the tricks is almost incomprehensible. Practice went down just great, except when event favourite Levi Sherwood from New Zealand had a bit of a dodgy landing and hurt his leg. This left many people wondering if he would be able to compete the following day.
By the end of Friday's proceedings, the results were as follows:
1. Josh Sheehan (AUS) 87,9
2. Thomas Pagès (FRA) 87,0
3. Clinton Moore (AUS) 84,6
4. Adam Jones (USA) 84.2
5. Taka Higashino (JPN) 83,7
6. Dany Torres (ESP) 83.6
7. Rémi Bizouard (FRA) 83,1
8. Maikel Melero (ESP) 83,0
9. David Rinaldo (FRA) 82,2
10. Alastair Sayer (BOT) 76,7
11. Nick de Wit (RSA) 72,4
12. Levi Sherwood (NZL) 56,2
Red Bull X-Fighters 2014 Final - Saturday 23rd
Game time! After an awesome lunch on Red Bull at the Sheraton Hotel, it was time for us to head on over to the arena. I expected the atmosphere to be pretty lively, but it was way more than that. It was actually unbelievable. I knew the big grandstand was able to hold 5000 people, but I never confirmed how many tickets were sold in total. By the time the first riders headed out, there were 22000 people with their eyes glued to the action. The massive crowd proudly waving the South African flag was something worth seeing.
After Friday's qualifying, event and series favourite Levi Sherwood ended up at the bottom of the pack after coming off and seeing him walking around the camp using a crutch had everyone was wondering if he'd be able to compete. Besides that wipeout, everyone else managed pretty clean runs. The riders were judged on Variety, Execution, Style, Course and Energy. Getting three or more votes would see them win and advance to the next round. For Friday, 7 of the 12 riders who ranked the highest had secure spot in the finals, and the remaining 5 would also get a chance to advance to the finals thanks to a single 60-second round held on the Saturday.
The bottom 5 riders who were to compete for that elusive final spot in the top 8 were our own Nick de Wit, Botswana local Alastair Sayer, Spain's Maikel Melero, France's David Rinaldo and New Zealand's Levi Sherwood. The guys were well aware of what was on the line and their opening runs in Round One were insane. Cliffhangers, Tsumanis, Rock Solids, 9'oclocks, all the tricks were there. The crowds were clearly behind the African locals but also gave Levi serious props for going out and doing a run for the fans even though he was clearly in a lot of pain. Spain's Maikel Melero clinched the 8th spot allowing him to compete in the Quarter Finals.
The Quarter Finals were made up of 4 heads up battles in a knockout format. 5th Qualifier went against 4th Qualifier, 3rd vs 6th, 2nd vs 7th and 8th vs 1st in 75-second runs. The first was Japan's Taka Higashino against USA's Adam Jones and even though he pulled off some wicked stuff including a perfectly executed Cordova Flip, it was Adam Jones who took the win. Australia's Clinton Moore then went up against Spain's Dany Torres, a true X-Fighters veteran having competed at 41 of the 50 events. Moore put in a solid effort but it wasn't enough to beat the Spaniard. The next round was a French affair that saw another crowd favourite, Thomas Pagès, take on fellow countryman Rémi Bizouard. Bizouard's run was insane, my favourite trick being a huge Superman Double Grab. Unfortunately on Pagès' run he put the bike down on the landing after attempting a Flair 540 off a quarter pipe. He landed it ok but the landing part of the ramp was a little too narrow and he sort of ran off the edge, the bike wedged in between the ramp and another quarter pipe which cost valuable time and more importantly, points. The final run of the quarter finals saw Josh Sheehan take on Maikel Melero. That run went to Josh, there's really not much to compete with a freaking double backflip! Having the crowds see it up close for the first time is something I won't forget in a hurry, the arena erupted in cheers that rocked the ground.
The 4 riders who advanced to the Semi Finals round were able to take a little longer with an allocated 90-second run each giving them time to get in a few more big tricks and to use more of the track. Again, mental runs and the guys looked to be going higher and higher. Sheehan took out Jones and Torres took out Bizouard to make the final a Sheehan vs Torres battle. Again, serious airtime and all the biggest tricks in the books from both riders saw the crowd going nuts. Once again though, a double backflip sealed the deal, although it was pretty close according to the judges. Sheehan was crowned winner of the 50th Red Bull X-Fighters. With Sherwood out of the points, Sheehan was also able to pick up enough points to take the top spot for the series, making him the overall Red Bull X-Fighters World Tour winner.
All in all, it was an event of epic proportions. Red Bull pulled out all the stops, every single aspect of the event was flawless. It ranks as my top local event to date, and in the last 15 years I've covered more than my fair share of them. From my side, thanks to everyone involved, you all rock.
You can find all the pics from the event on my Facebook page.