Dislocated knee won't stop Levi Sherwood at Red Bull X-Fighters championship

By Trevor McKewen

New Zealand's Levi Sherwood dislocated his knee in training in Madrid earlier today but will still take his place in the elite 12-rider field gunning to win the world championship in freestyle motocross.

Sherwood shrugged off the training incident and maintained it would not prevent him performing at his best in the Red Bull X-Fighters championship to be fought out in the famous Plaza de Toros bullring in the centre of the Spanish capital on Saturday morning New Zealand time.

Sherwood qualified third out of 12 riders at the qualifying session overnight..

"It's not a big deal....it (the knee) slips out pretty easy due to previous injuries I've had. I just pushed it back in and away we go again," the 24-year-old daredevil from Palmerston North told the Herald.

"You talk to any other rider here and they're all dealing with something. It's just what we do. We just love riding our bikes whether it´s in an event, at home, out on the beach. But it´s not the most gentle of sports."

Indeed, injuries are part and parcel of Sherwood´s spectacular career which has been punctuated by some horrific injuries as well as the dazzling heights of winning the 2012 world championship.

That victory came after a sickening crash in Las Vegas the year before which resulted in two broken bones in his left wrist, two fractured vertabrae, a lacerated liver, bruised lung and "banging my kidney about a bit."

Sherwood is also coming into the Madrid event off the back of three crashes at the X Games in Texas last month, resulting in a mild concussion.

It was his comeback event to top flight competition following a frustrating 2015 - apart from a silver medal at the X Games - as he struggled to compete with a metal plate inside his left ankle. He had surgery to remove the plate last September and his form and condition has improved to the extent his rivals here in Madrid are once again looking over the shoulder at the threat of the rider known as "The Rubber Kid".

"It wasn't the biggest of injuries but it kept playing on me. So I took some time off, got it fixed and now I feel 100 per cent.

"It's all or nothing here in Madrid but I'm fine with that."

The latter quote is a reference to the significant change in the X-Fighters format. Since its inception, the world title has been fought out over five to six rounds at various exotic locations around the globe. But organisers changed the format this year to just the one event deciding the championship with the spiritual home of the sport chosen as the venue to decide the title and a million dollars in prizemoney.

The compact bullring, which will be packed out with 20,000 rabid fans, is a venue which places an emphasis on tricks. The sport itself has veered that way in recent years and Sherwood acknowledged that, and the one-off nature of the event, ramps up the pressure.

To defy the odds, Sherwood will be relying on a bold trick known as the alley-oop that he has been trying to perfect at the family farm in Manawatu which includes a giant foam pit to ensure safety if the move comes unstuck.

Frenchman Tom Pages, winner of the past three X-Fighter events to be held in Madrid, is the only rider to have nailed the difficult move in competition.

"I'm still learning the alley-oop and right now I'm sitting on 18 attempts and three landings (all in practice) and that includes three crashes at the X Games last month, so I'm a little big disappointed with that. I could have not tried it and maybe got a medal but I really just wanted to land that trick. So I'm going to go out there and give it a go tomorrow and see what happens."

How the competition works (Click for larger view)

Pages and Australian world champion Clinton Moore are the two riders who stand in Sherwood´s way in bidding for a second world title. But he is a crowd favourite with the Spanish fans who are as knowledgable about freestyle motocross as New Zealand fans are about rugby.

"I love competing here," the loose-limbed Kiwi said."I was lucky enough to win here in 2012 and it's an atmosphere you can't really describe unless you've been here. Being a smaller arena, pretty much creates bigger tricks, Smaller arenas only allow for standard jumps which suits bigger tricks. It´s something I've had to adapt to and I've been placing a bigger emphasis on that recently."

Sherwood has been tinkering with his bike, taking 10 kilograms of weight out of the machine as he seeks a winning edge.

* Trevor McKewen travelled to Madrid courtesy of Red Bull

- NZ Herald

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