ESPN History

Burnquist’s ‘Extreme’ memories

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Friday marks the 17th anniversary of the first Extreme Games, which eventually became known as the X Games.

The ESPN-backed carnival of action sports sprawled over four cities in Rhode Island and Vermont from June 24 to July 1, 1995.

The photos above capture some of the flavor.

Athletes competed in 27 events in nine sport categories, ranging in everything from bungy jumping to skateboarding to sky surfing to street luge.

Brazilian-born Bob Burnquist was an 18-year-old skateboarder then, fresh off winning a Vert event in Vancouver.

Like many of his fellow competitors, he had his doubts about what this “alternative” sports circus would prove to be.

“Is this a good thing, or is this a bad thing?” Burnquist, now 34 and winner of 20 X Games medals (seven gold), recalls thinking then.

“I remember seeing neon green and neon pink, all kinds of weird flashy stuff on the course. It seemed like there wasn’t much understanding of what we did, other than there was this excitement around it. [Organizers] wanted to do something with this new group.

“My recollections were mixed.”

When organizers started to incorporate athletes’ input into improving the event, the outlook improved.

“First, they stopped with the neon green thing,” Burnquist said, chuckling.

“Secondly, they started to understand that skateboarding is not really the same as BMX or inline. They started to realize that course design, the way we think and approach things, [make us] all so different.”

Years of wrangling between organizers and athletes have helped transform the event from novelty to tradition.

The 17th  X Games will take place in Los Angeles July 28-31.

Burnquist, one of only four athletes to compete in all 16 previous editions, is preparing himself for more twists and turns in Los Angeles.

“I feel better now than I did in my first X Games,” said Burnquist, who at 6 feet, 2 inches tall weighs 180 pounds.

He said he maintains 8 percent body fat even though he weighs 17 pounds more than he did 16 years ago.

In 1995, “if you had asked me, I’d never be hanging out in a gym or working out. ‘Skating is all I do, it’s all I need,'” Burnquist said.

The gym — particularly core training — has helped him stay resilient.

Burnquist finished eighth in the Skateboard Park and 13th in the Skateboard Vert competitions in the 1995 Extreme Games.

There was little sleep to be had in the Salve Regina College dorms in Newport, RI, which served as home to three diverse sports cultures.

“I was thinking, these guys have no idea what they’re doing when they put inliners on the first floor, skateboarders on the second floor and BMXers on the third floor,” Burnquist recalled.

“It was just chaos. All night. It was us going to the inline floors and messing with them, putting posters up, drawing mustaches.”

He might not be as mischievous now, but Burnquist retains his stamina despite a long battle with asthma.

Who’s ready to retire? Why not party like it’s 1995?

“Obviously there is a fragility on the body. But if I feel competitive, I’m going to be there,” he said before departing for a competition in his native Brazil.

“If I’m healthy, I’ll see 16 more [X Games].”

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