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X Marks the Spot

Aug. 28, 2000
Aug. 28, 2000

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Aug. 28, 2000

NFL Preview 2000

X Marks the Spot

This just in: The X-Games, ESPN's annual salute to counterculture
sports, baggy shorts and high insurance premiums, are now rated
PG. Parental guidance is mandatory, as comedian Andy Dick, who
hosted the six-day event's Kickoff Bash on Pier 30-32 in San
Francisco last Thursday, discovered. Shortly after performing
before a dyed and pierced audience, Dick went from manic to
panic. The problem: His 11-year-old son, Lucas, was nowhere to be
found. "He went off ice skating a few hours ago," Dick's
assistant said, "and he hasn't come back. Andy's worried."

This is an article from the Aug. 28, 2000 issue

Like Dick, whose son was located in short order, the X-Games
skysurf a fine line between maintaining their alternative appeal
and playing the role of responsible legal guardian. For example,
a new event, the freestyle moto-x step up, is basically a high
jump competition for motocross riders, which led comedian Adam
Carolla of Comedy Central's The Man Show to say, "The X-Games are
mainly dedicated to destroying the male scrotum area." On the
other hand the X-Games are family-friendly. Admission is free,
smoking and alcohol are forbidden. "Everything we do," says ESPN
vice president of programming Ron Semiao, "is concerned with
safety."

Tell that to the X-Games' street lugers, bicycle stunt riders and
in-line skaters. "The other night a few of us found some flower
boxes that had wheels on the bottom," said street luger Daryl
Thompson, a hulking 6'6" guy who answers to the apt moniker of
Lugenstein, "and we went flower-box racing on the streets. I
don't know why we didn't get arrested."

Six years ago Semiao, at the time a programmer for ESPN2,
approached then-ESPN-president Steve Bornstein with the X-Games
concept. "I was immersing myself in learning alternative
sports," Semiao says. "I thought that by creating our own event,
we would, among other advantages, never have to worry about
being outbid for it." Six years and as many Emmys later the
X-Games maintain their appeal--and their steady if unspectacular
Nielsen ratings--by creating television that is true to their
hardcore niche audience. "The secret to the success of these
games is not faking it," said Lugenstein, who would finish
seventh in his event. "Kids can smell the stench of phoniness a
mile away."

--J.W.

COLOR PHOTO: ERIC LARS BAKKE

THE FEUER THE BETTER
The man behind NBC's Olympic Web site has big, big plans

Tom Feuer skittered around the San Francisco offices of Quokka
Sports searching for a functioning computer. "You've just got to
see the virtual canoe-kayaking course we just created," Feuer,
the coordinating producer of nbcolympics.com, said. "But it looks
as if a few of our servers are taking the day off."

Feuer's Olympic ambitions rival those of Marion Jones. "We've got
43 features on Australia alone," he says. "Whereas NBC only has
time to do a three-minute feature on [Ethiopian distance runner]
Fatuma Roba, we can give you three hours. We have the Simulcam,
which superimposes two athletes--for example in swimming, Jenny
Thompson's start off the blocks on Dara Torres's--to compare their
form. Then we have [1984 triple-gold-medal freestyler] Rowdy
Gaines analyze why one form is superior."

A veteran of six Olympics, Feuer's entree into the Games came in
1984 when he dropped out of UCLA for a quarter to compile athlete
bios for the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee. Today
Feuer edits a site that by the Sept. 14 opening ceremonies will
have almost 1,000 athlete bios on it. "Because of the
time-zone-difference issues, people may use us initially as the
Olympics' electronic TV Guide," says Feuer, referring to the fact
that the Internet will serve as a daily preview of NBC's
prime-time, tape-delayed event coverage. "But once they visit the
site, they'll see that we have a lot more to offer." If anything,
almost too much. If the Olympic motto is citius, altius, fortius,
then nbcolympics.com's is copious.

--J.W.

The X-Games skysurf a fine line between their alternative appeal
and playing the role of responsible legal guardian.