X-traordinary

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The First Union Center parking lot turned into a dump last Thursday morning when 400 truckloads of dirt were hauled into lot "C." By next week, the giant pile will be transformed into the moto X for X Games VIII.

Construction crews also were at work erecting scaffolding for a 72-foot tower, which athletes will use for the speed climb.

In other words, finding a parking spot at the sports complex is going to be tough over the next couple weeks.

Still, thousands of spectators are expected to find their way to the international extreme-sports competition at the First Union complex from Aug. 15-19.

Last summer, when the games also were held in Philadelphia, attendance was 234,950. The free admission is a major draw, especially for large families and teens, event officials say.

"If you put a price tag on it, you are limiting some of those kids automatically," said Maria Elles, a marketing and communications manager for ESPN, which sponsors the games.

And if mom and dad are working, grandparents can bring the kids and relax in the air-conditioned areas, Elles added.

Extreme-sports enthusiasts of all ages can watch Tony Hawk perform in the skateboard vert best-trick competition or watch South Philly’s Kerry Getz go for the gold in the skateboard park. As an added thrill, fans can ask the X Games competitors to sign their skateboards or inline skates. As a safety precaution, anyone who brings a skateboard into the event will be required to have its wheels inspected at the entrance. From there, youngsters are free to approach their favorite athlete for an autograph.

"The only thing stopping you is if you freeze going up to the athlete," Elles said.

The X Games were originated in 1993, when ESPN management decided to create an international gathering of action sports athletes. Two years later, the first event was held in Rhode Island and drew 198,000 spectators.

The concept has expanded to include the Winter X Games, X Games Global Championship, Asian X Games, the EXPN Invitational and Tony Hawk’s Gigantic Skatepark Tour.


In Philadelphia, X Games organizers have met with community officials and neighborhood groups to make sure the five-day event runs as smoothly as possible. The biggest concerns will be traffic and parking, as the newly traded Scott Rolen and his St. Louis Cardinals will play a three-game weekend series coinciding with the games. The biggest Phillies crowd is expected Sunday afternoon to take advantage of a Harry Kalas and Richie Ashburn dual bobbing-head doll giveaway.

Elles said police will help control traffic patterns, and electronic message boards posted on street corners will let drivers know which lots are open. Since stadium construction is further reducing parking space, the Philadelphia Naval Business Center will be open for parking on Saturday and Sunday, with free shuttle service to and from the X Games.

"A good tip — don’t drive Saturday or Sunday," Elles said.

Public-transit users will be able to rely on increased SEPTA bus and train service to and from the First Union complex.

Some X Games fans will travel on foot to the event, which is a stone’s throw from the popular FDR skateboard park underneath I-95.

As crews worked to set up the extreme-sports extravaganza last week, a group of anonymous daredevils spun and flipped their boards and bikes around the city’s only legal skateboard park.

Northeast Philadelphia’s Bill Tiernan, 15, said he plans to attend as many events as possible, but won’t try the tricks displayed by the pros.

"Some of the stuff doesn’t make sense," he said. "I am sticking to my own tricks."

Phil Kane, 15, visits the skate park a couple times a month, and is also looking forward to attending the X Games.

"The X Games are great," said Kane, also of Northeast Philly. "They are like the Olympics of these sports."

Every summer, fans are treated to something new. Last summer marked the first time in X Games history that the event was held both indoors and outdoors. This time, the new twist will be separate courses — one for inline skaters and bicyclists and one for skateboarders. Course designer John Tyson, who has 15 years of experience, said the distinction is important.

"It allows us to use sport-specific pieces and make the course a lot more exciting," he said while outside the construction area for the games.

The other addition this year will be an action-sports expo held inside the venue.

The X Games officially begin Saturday morning with the Skateboard Street practice on the west side of City Hall. Getz and fellow South Philly resident Ricky Oyola will compete for the gold. Skateboard Street finals will be held later in the day; the downhill BMX event will follow Sunday at Camp Woodward near Penn State University, and wakeboarding will be held on the Schuylkill River Monday and Tuesday. Next Thursday, the rest of the games will begin in South Philadelphia, featuring aggressive inline skating, bicycle stunts, moto X and skateboarding.

Tiernan, one of the skateboard-park regulars, expects to have plenty of company at the games.

"It’s the only event that reaches kids in this type of group," he said.