X GAMES Dude, Philadelphia is ready to 'rock'
Boardman native Rob Struharik is one of 350 athletes competing.
By JOE SCALZO
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
Just over 225 years ago, Philadelphia hosted a cutting-edge event that caught the nation's attention.
This week, they'll do it again. Just with different clothes.
After four years in California, the seventh annual X Games return to the East Coast on Saturday and will run through Wednesday in Philadelphia.
Its character: The X Games combine passion, punk rock and body piercings with a public that prides itself on being slightly off-kilter.
Athletes bear more bruises than a rotten peach factory.
Fans speak more slang than Dennis Miller at a Clockwork Orange reading.
The X Games are huge -- and they're getting bigger.
"This event's gonna rock," said Josh Krulewitz, manager of communications for ESPN, which hosts, promotes and televises the event. "It's the biggest X Games to date."
For the first time, events will take place both indoors and outdoors. Philadelphia opened up the First Union Center, which hosts Flyers and Sixers games in the winter. The games will showcase new events like "Downhill BMX," "Motocross Big Air," and "Street Skateboarding."
"We didn't know how much it was gonna grow, but ESPN wanted to take a leadership role," Krulewitz said of the games, which began in 1995. "Each year we tinker with it, adding some sports and, quite frankly, subtracting others."
Forming ideas: ESPN is also testing a new magazine, EXPN, which complements its year-round web site, EXPN.com. Over 28 million different homes tuned in last year on ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC. The networks will broadcast this year's games Sunday through Thursday.
Thousands came to the free event in San Francisco last year to watch it in person; even more are expected this year, Krulewitz said. The games even have an international appeal. California is still the hotbed, however, with one-third of athletes hailing from there.
Boardman native Rob Struharik, who recently moved to Florida, is one of the 350 athletes competing. Struharik, a professional wakeboarder, has competed in four X Games, finishing a personal-best sixth in 1998. He failed to make the top eight in this year's competition.
Other Ohioans competing include: Matt Pohlkamp, 25, of Cincinnati (Downhill BMX); Trevor Vines, 28, of Conneaut (Motocross); Travis Turreson, 27, of Mansfield (Downhill BMX); and Scott Powell, 30, of Westlake (Bike Flatland).
Motocross, BMX racing, inline skating, street luge and speed rock climbing are among the top sports, but skateboarding is still king.
Popularity intensifies: "It's a huge cornerstone," Krulewitz said of skateboarding. "All the sports have huge followings, but if you're talking numbers, skateboarding is the biggest."
Especially with young people. Skateboarding is the fastest growing sport among boys age 7-17, according to a study by the National Sporting Goods Association. More than six million boys skate, up 130 percent since the first X Games in 1995.
It also doesn't hurt that aggressive sports' biggest star, Tony Hawk, is a skateboarder.
"He's the signature name," Krulewitz said.
The games are as different and fresh as the fan base, which is growing. Many of the sports have huge followings regardless of age or gender.
The main draw, however, is the athleticism, Krulewitz said.
"Anyone who watches will have to appreciate the athleticism and the competition," he said. "These sports just continue to get bigger."