By Jacqueline Monahan
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Nitro Circus Live Ramps it Up (and Down) at MGM Grand’s Garden Arena

The popular MTV reality show Nitro Circus debuted its “live” version at The MGM Grand Garden Arena on Saturday, June 4th in a sold-out, multi-faceted performance.  It’s the first North American appearance of the extreme sports extravaganza that featured ramp n’ roll action from champions on bikes (BMX) motorcycles (FMX) skateboards, trikes (three-wheeled contraptions), razor scooters, inline skates, a shopping cart, and even a wheelchair.

Starting the Show with a Bang
Photo Credit: John Hardin

Based in Australia and New Zealand the show is billed as the “greatest live action sports show of all time.”  The one-night only event also served as the stage for a portion of the filming of the 3-D Nitro Circus movie, scheduled to be released in early 2012.

The set is impressive.  Your humble correspondent sat in the highest row directly opposite the steepest ramp that would drop participants at rollercoaster speed before launching them high into the air and onto a padded ramp where, hopefully, they could maintain an upright posture.  As far up as I was, the ramp at the other end of the Arena was even higher, propelling the adrenaline-stoked athletes directly toward me.

The Giganta Ramp
Photo Credit: John Hardin

Travis Pastrana, the show's headliner and organizer, is a 17-time X Games* medalist and current gold medalist in FMX (freestyle motocross).  Along with the current X Games gold medalists in all three Big Air disciplines – Australia’s Jake Brown (skate), America’s Chad Kagy , BMX (bicycle motocross) and Australia’s Cam Sinclair (FMX Best trick), the fast-paced show featured a special guest appearance from Ryan Sheckler (USA): 3 times X Games gold medalist. *The X Games is a commercial annual sports event arranged by US sports broadcaster ESPN, which focuses on action sport.

Travis Pastrana
Photo Credit: John Hardin 

Aussie emcee Bruce Robson, in flannel shirt and dreadlocks, kept the action moving with his colorful narrations, supplemented by announcers at the top of the 50 ft. Giganta Ramp, launch site for all of the wheeled athletes (FMX is an exception).  A favorite chant among the audience appeared to be, “You ride it, you jump it.”

Additional participants, all of championship caliber, and some with medals to prove it, flew through the air in the following categories (subject to change with each show):

BMX: Jaie Toohey, Matt Whyatt, Andrew Ahumada, Andy Buckworth, medalist.  You may have seen these guys twirl the body of their bikes underneath them before, but perhaps not so quickly and skillfully as they can when launched from the 50 ft Giganta Ramp.

BMX Flight
Photo Credit: John Hardin 
Perfect Landing
Photo Credit: John Hardin 

FMX: Dusty Wygle, Myles Richmond, Clint Moore, Michael ‘Chucky’ Norris, Jolene Van Vugt – she attended, but didn’t compete in the show,  and she’s the first female to backflip a motorcycle.  Matty McFerran, Josh Sheehan, medalist, Blake ‘Bilko’ Williams, medalist, Kenny Bartram, medalist, Todd Potter, medalist, Mike Mason, medalist, Jaryd McNeil, medalist, Levi Sherwood,  and Mark Monea,  Led by Pastrana, these guys did tandem jumps, “trains” that had them jump all in a straight line, forward and backward flips, and Pastrana’s triple ride backflip.  They can also release their legs from the bike at its highest point, appearing to be superheroes of the air.

FMX in Flight (Pastrana)
Photo Credit: John Hardin 

Rollerblade:  Chris Haffey – yes, he did plunge down the Giganta Ramp and land on his feet, er…blades.

Pogostick: Fred Grzybowski – he didn’t pogo down a ramp, but did execute backflips on solid ground.

Big Air Scooter: Andrew Broussard – this looks like a razor scooter, but in Broussard’s hands it might as well be a jet.

Mountain Bike
: Jim DeChamp, Cam McCall 

: Lyn-Z Adams Hawkins medalist, Pastrana proposed to her during the show and she said yes!  Bob Burnquist, medalist.

Skateboard Surfer
Photo Credit: John Hardin 

Skis: Erik Roner : Yes, he actually slid down the 50 ft. ramp, poles and all, and landed like it was made of snow.  No agony of defeat here.

Skiing Without Snow
Photo Credit: John Hardin 

Greg Powell aka ‘Special Greg’ - give him anything with wheels and he will be the first one to run it, ride it, or jump it.  Some of the more eccentric vehicles that Powell and the gang rode down the ramp included a dune buggy, a shopping cart, tiny three-wheeled “trikes”, a boogie board, a dune buggy, and an ice chest.

"You Ride It, You Jump it"
Photo Credit: John Hardin 

A Different Set of Wheels:

And then there was Las Vegas native Aaron "Wheelz" Fotheringham.   Only 19, and wheelchair-dependant due to spina bifida, he became the first person to execute a back flip in a wheelchair. Fotheringham wore a t-shirt that read “This is my town, bitches.”  During the show, he landed a double front flip, while the crowd stood on its feet the entire time.  His nickname might be “Wheelz”, but he could easily change it to “Fearless” Fotheringham.

Aaron "Wheelz" Fotheringham
Photo Credit: John Hardin 

Nitro Circus Challenges:

The USA and Australian Teams square off in an FMX Challenge of ramp-jumping that had the USA team doing multi-jumps so that all five of their bikes were in the air at the same time.  While the Australian team was competent enough with its single-rider acrobatics, the clear winner was the home team.

Photo Credit: John Hardin 

FMX superstar Travis Pastrana took audience member Natalie for a tandem ramp ride (and backflip) for which she had to sign a waiver.

From Audience to FMX Stunt Rider
Photo Credit: John Hardin 

BMX legend Chad Kagy challenged Pastrana to a competition that would highlight an incredible skill.  For Kagy, it was cross jumping from one ramp to another; Pastrana chose to ride with two additional people on his bike (in front of him) and maneuvered it into the air, executing a backflip that landed the trio safely.

Pastrana (left) Before His Three-Person "World First"
Photo Credit: John Hardin 

The show is long (three hours with one fifteen minute intermission) but moves swiftly, and a variety of in-flight action happens faster than a camera’s shutter speed.  Even witnessing the stunts live means you might miss something if you look away for a split second.

They make it look graceful, but even the athletes can wipeout. Crash reels are shown (on four huge video screens) before some of the more difficult maneuvers, the crowd always erupting in wild celebration when an athlete completes a landing. Sometimes they don’t, but even then they manage a more graceful fall than you’d expect, sliding into a large inflatable bumper before getting up to do it all over again.

Will He Land His "Trike?"
Photo Credit: John Hardin 
Back to the Ramp
Photo Credit: John Hardin 

No fewer than 10 “World Firsts” occurred, including a triple front flip off the Giganta Ramp, (BMX) Fotheringham’s front flip in a wheelchair and Pastrana’s 3-person FMX backflip. There was also a jump off two parallel ramps with both FMX athletes executing a double backflip before safely landing.

BMX Mid-Flip
Photo Credit: John Hardin 

For sheer spectacle the 9-bike FMX “train” provided a sequential look at motorcycles in various stages of launch, flip and touchdown. The whole spectacle is an adrenaline rush for both athlete and admirer.

Usually you need wings to fly.  These talented athletes only need wheels.

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