Motocross stars eye Olympic inclusion

By Trevor McKewen

Levi Sherwood. Photo / Andrew Warner.
Levi Sherwood. Photo / Andrew Warner.

Skateboarding is coming. Surfing isn't far behind it. But could freestyle motocross be the biggest crowd-pleaser yet as an addition to the Olympics.

Kiwi star Levi Sherwood believes the case has merit for adding FMX to the Games.

And judging by the response from the Madrid crowd at the Red Bull X-Fighters yesterday at the sport's world championship event in Spain, FMX would create a rollicking atmosphere that most disciplines would struggle to go even near duplicating.

The cynical view is that ageing Olympic officials, fearful of protecting the five rings' commercial juggernaut, would add tiddlywinks if it meant keeping young viewers tuning in instead of migrating to events like extreme sport's popular X-Games.

But Sherwood, who finished fourth amid an electrifying atmosphere at the Plaza del Toro bullring yesterday, was prepared to back a call for FMX's promotion to Games status.

"I'd love to see that," said the 24-year-old high flyer.

"I'd love to see freestyle grow to the point where it becomes a mainstream sport -- if that's what you want to call it -- and get into the Olympics."

It will probably come too late for Sherwood - not because of his age but more the ability to hold his body together in a sport that extracts a physical toll that few other Olympic disciplines demand.

But anybody suggesting the skill level, commitment and courage needed to match Olympic ideals will find a ready argument from 20,000 cheering Spaniards and a massive global TV audience that tuned into the breathtaking spectacle that was yesterday's world championship.

Some of the moves by riders matched top level gymnastics. Only these guys are performing them 15 metres plus in the air, often holding onto their powerful bikes by a couple of fingers let alone one hand.

The gladiatorial spectacle created an adrenaline rush that threatened to drown the bullring in downtown Madrid.

For Sherwood, the X-Fighters showdown represented a welcome return to top flight competition and the reassurance that he remains a formidable force despite a wrecked campaign last year caused by the injuries that are inevitable in this sport.

"It's not the most gentle sport," he said in what might qualify as the sporting understatement of the year. "Last year was disappointing in the sense of the Red Bull X Fighters season.

"I had an ongoing injury from the year before which ended my season in South Africa so that was a bit of a bummer. It wasn't the biggest injury but it just kept playing on me. I could barely walk but I could ride. I'd had enough so I took the time off and got it fixed and now I feel nearly 100 per cent."

He was referring to the removal of a metal plate from his left ankle last September. A loose screw didn't help as he struggled to compete and live up to his status as the "rubber man" of the sport. The band had almost snapped.

"My goal this year has been to set myself up for next year to be riding the best I possibly can so I can come in at the top. That's where I really want to be."

That means winning another X-Fighters world championship. Sherwood remains the youngest ever winner if a round of the series, triumphing as a 17-year-old in a bullring in Mexico, before going on to win the world championship in 2012.

He thinks the sport needs further tinkering to really fast-track its credibility, and possibly seal Olympic status.

A deep thinker and self-confessed mechanical hobbyist who likes to "hibernate and experiment" in his rural Manawatu compound which features self-made tracks, he wants to see the sport review its technical side, revamp its ramps and lift its excitement level.

"I've realised that where our sport is at right now our tricks are nearly maxed out because of where our ramps and our bikes are," he explained.

"So I've been doing a lot of work on bike development around freestyle bikes. Right now we ride motocross bikes which are great but they need a little bit of modifying.

"And with the ramps, I think we are maxed out right now. I think our ramps needs to be bigger. Not the jumps. But I think we can do a lot bigger tricks safer on bigger ramps that put us higher in the air, if that makes sense. It sounds like it doesn't but it does.

"I also think we need to steer away from the technical stuff around the quarter pipes (the smallest of the different sized ramps). I think it's taken the wow factor away from the sport.

"When I was younger I used to watch events and go 'wow, I really want to try that'. Right now our events are getting slightly smaller with the ramps getting smaller. It's not as exciting. I think we could go in a slightly different direction."

That's a hard concept for the rookie spectator to get their head around after watching the Madrid showdown.

Freestyle motocross bigger and even more spectacular than it is now? That's something to get even the staid slipper and cardigan-wearing Olympic officials painting their faces, wearing baseball caps backwards and fist-pumping.

· Trevor McKewen travelled to Madrid courtesy of Red Bull

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