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Mountain biking made its long-anticipated entry into the X Games’ “Real” series on Monday, joining mainstream action sports like skateboarding, BMX, motocross, snowboarding and skiing with an appearance in the iconic competition.
The Real format allows competitors an allotted timeframe—in this case September 1 to January 31—to film a 90-second single-athlete edit that is then judged by a panel, as well as entered into the court of public opinion for the coveted Fan Favorite award.
The rules are pretty loose. Athletes can choose any filmer they want to team up with, and are encouraged, but not required, to film in various locations. X Games aims to choose athletes that represent several different disciplines of the sport, and mountain biking’s first-ever six Real competitors—Brandon Semenuk, Veronique Sandler, Danny MacAskill, DJ Brandt, Cam Zink and Brage Vestavik—brought the heat, each dropping edits that illustrate the immense talent and constant progression that lives at the top end of the sport.
“I’m blown away with how hard this thing hit this week,” said Clay Harper, whose Red 11 Agency organized Real MTB on behalf of ESPN (Harper also runs the U.S. Open MTB). “I knew it was going to be good. I did not know it was going to be this good. The reception’s been amazing, just the way the world has responded to this. I think individual athlete projects without brand-driven sales content, the art form of athletes riding how they want to ride in an old-school skate video montage style from the ’90s has been missing.”
Of the six edits, Vestavik’s 90 seconds of absolute insanity no doubt hit the hardest, as the 22-year-old Norwegian immediately became synonymous with the ‘mind blown’ emoji through a barrage of stomped tricks executed on a raucous canvas of wooden features, massive drops and two-story skinnies built in the woods near his house in southeast Norway.
“He’s breaking the internet,” Harper said. “It’s not what people expect visually. We’re so used to the visuals of the Pacific Northwest, the Southwest. We’re not used to seeing deep, dark, dank Norwegian woods, with the moisture and the mud. He just blew people away.”
As the sole female invited to participate this year, Kiwi Veronique Sandler, who shot with Steel City Media near her adopted hometown in Wales, produced a fun, fast edit that showcases her signature style and trick progression (sneaking in a super-steezy crankflip nothing, to boot). Trials king Danny MacAskill continued his reign of turning everything around him into a playground, and making every move look ridiculously effortless, while Brandon Semenuk and his team of longtime collaborators produced a beautiful edit that gave nearly equal billing to their artful approach to filming and shooting as to Semenuk’s timeless riding style and his unmatched technical feats on a DH bike. Freeride legend Cam Zink takes his turn on the big mountain lines in the Utah desert that have shaped his lasting career, and fellow U.S. rider DJ Brandt juxtaposed his desert lines with an on-snow shoot at Winter Park, perhaps an homage to mountain biking’s first-ever Winter X Games appearance at Mt. Snow in Vermont in the late ’90s.
Edits are judged by a panel of three on the basis of four equally weighted categories: trick technicality, cinematography, innovation and overall impression. The gold, silver and bronze medal winners have already been selected and will be announced at the end of the “Real MTB” hour-long special, which is hosted by Tyler McCaul and airs Saturday on ABC at 11 a.m. PST, Sunday on ESPN2 Encore at 7 p.m. PST and on YouTube on Sunday at 9 a.m. PST.
Fan Favorite voting ends on Sunday, April 25 at Midnight PST and the winner will be announced April 26 at 9am PST. The fan favorite wins $5,000, while the medal winners take home prize packages worth significantly more. Head over to http://www.xgames.com/xgames/real/31243520/real-mtb-2021 to cast your vote.