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WINTER X GAMES Courting disaster is all part of the fun



Published: Wed, February 2, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Games stress safety, but the potential for spectacular wrecks draws viewers.

ASPEN, Colo. (AP) -- When Brian Deegan flew off his motorcycle and went crashing to the ice 40 feet below at last year's Winter X Games, ESPN showed it on what seemed like a continuous loop.

Sure, there was some news value -- Deegan broke both wrists and his leg -- but crashes are a big part of Winter X's appeal and ESPN doesn't hesitate playing them up.

"You look on television and it's like 'Fear Factor', people eating [stuff] all over," snowboarder Tara Dakides said. "People are drawn to things that have severe consequences and injuries. There's definitely a factor of injury and carnage in all aspects of the Winter X games."

That's for sure.

With motorcycles backflipping over 90-foot gaps, snowmobiles flying off jumps, and skiers and snowboarders contorting themselves up to 20 feet in the air, there are going to be spills and most will be spectacular.

Like NASCAR fans who watch for the crashes or hockey fans who are there for the fights, a certain segment of the Winter X crowd is there for the wipeouts. And it's not just the fans. Some athletes get caught up in the car wreck mentality.

Adds excitement

"You don't really wish it upon anyone to crash, but sometimes it's nice to see a big crash because it's fun," snowmobiler Blair Morgan said. "Definitely you'll get all that, exciting racing to the finish and someone cartwheeling down the track. Everything's tied in together."

Of course, ESPN doesn't set up the courses to ensure injury. The cable network, which created the X Games a decade ago and organizes every detail, walks a fine line between making the courses challenging while keeping the competitors relatively safe.

"I think if the athletes told us something was dangerous, we wouldn't do it," X Games founder Ron Semiao said. "It's never been anything where we've pushed athletes to do something that they were against doing or unsure of doing."

While this year's event has been relatively tame -- snowboarder Chris Klug's broken collarbone in practice Friday has been about the worst of it -- there have been plenty of spills that have been shown over and over on replays. And the announcers play into it as well, turning out catchy phrases such as "yard sale" and "big dump" when the spills do occur.

"I think that it would be naive to say there aren't viewers out there who watch NASCAR because they want to see a crash," Semiao said. "They know that crashes are inherent in these sports and want to see them. You run things over and over again for the news purpose of it because you know that viewers are coming in and out and you're advancing a story that did happen."

Underscores difficulty

Of course, advancing the story isn't the redeeming quality of the crashes.

When athletes fail to pull off a trick and go cartwheeling down the course, it gives fans at least some sense of how difficult the sports are. If everyone made it through spins, flips and jumps without occasionally hitting the dirt -- or snow -- the spectators would think it's easy.

"It's good for people to see how bad you can wreck yourself because if it all looks easy there would be no appreciation or respect for it," Dakides said. "It takes people going out and really wrecking themselves and damaging themselves to see how difficult things are."

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.




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