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The X-Factor


Angelika Casteñeda requires very little sleep. Once, she ran 150 miles in 39 hours. That’s nearly 4 miles per hour—nonstop—for more than a day and a half. Swollen feet and sleep-deprivation hallucinations be damned. "I can change my clothes—and even eat—while I’m running," she explains nonchalantly.

She twice set records in winning the Death Valley–to–Mount Whitney run. She’s navigated jungle race courses in Borneo, Malaysia; she’s tested her endurance in the Hawaiian Ironman competition. Most wince at the thought of any one Ironman component: a 2-mile swim, a 100-mile bike course and a 26-mile run. Not Casteñeda. The 53-year-old clinical psychologist regularly competes in double—even triple—Ironmans.

Naturally, next up for the University City perpetual motion machine is this summer’s Baja–to–San Diego X-Venture Race. Held in conjunction with ESPN’s X Games, the race covers 300 miles in five days. It requires 15 coed teams of three to ride mountain bikes and horses, hike, climb mountains, swim and kayak to the finish line. Last year only four teams finished. Sound challenging? "Yes, but they allow you to sleep at night—which helps," says Casteñeda, who was on last year’s winning team.

The race is one of 27 disciplines in 10 sports categories showcased in the X Games. The third summer X Games—originally organized and broadcast by sports cable network ESPN2, and now covered by big sister ESPN as well as ABC—will bring an eclectic group of athletes to San Diego. (The first winter Games were held earlier this year at Big Bear Lake.) These are not your father’s Olym pics. From June 20 to 28, more than 400 in-line skaters, stunt bicyclists, skateboarders, street lugers, wake boarders, barefoot jumpers, sport climbers, sky-surfers and even snowboarders will match blisters, bumps and bruises.

The action is scheduled to be centered at Mariners Point in Mission Beach, where alternative sports enthusiasts may choose to watch an aggressive in-line skater attempt a gap transfer to a disaster royale. (Translation: Jump from atop a platform to a metal rail, landing for a cross-legged slide down the rail.)

A soon-to-be-assembled Mission Beach sports complex/broadcast center is also where an anticipated 200,000 spectators may hold their collective breath as a stunt bicyclist puts on a crazy hat in the canyon and winds up loopy. (Translation: To become reckless, crash and develop an Excedrin head ache.)

Or the crowds may choose to be stoked by guys like Tony Hawk in the vert (vertical jump skateboarding) competition. Hawk’s repertoire includes a stale-fish-gay-twist-to-a-revert move. (Translation: Isn’t this one self-explanatory? Okay, accomplished on a giant half-pipe apparatus, it’s an airborne, grab-the-rear-end-of-your-board, backward-to-backward 540-degree spin.)

Carlsbad’s Hawk, 28, is a part ner in a skateboard parts wholesale company. He’s been a professional ’boarder half his life. Two years ago in Providence, Rhode Island—back when ESPN called its fledgling competition the Extreme Games—he placed first in the vert. Last year, San Diego res i dents swept the vert, with Andy MacDonald tak ing gold, followed by Hawk and Tas Pappas (also from Carlsbad).

Hawk is excited the games have come to San Di ego. "It’s pretty much like a festival," he says. "Not that there are live bands or anything. But there’s always something going on."

X Games officials echo that portrayal. But they are quick to point out that the event is nothing like a Grateful Dead concert. For one thing, alcoholic beverages are not served. "Something we learned from the Games in Rhode Island is that we have to make accommodations for all the baby stroll ers," says Jack Weinert, executive director of the X Games.

A typical pair of crowd members are a mom and her 6-year-old, who just acquired his first skate board, adds Chris Stiepok, director of marketing and communications for the Games. With that in mind, event producer Sandy Fischler has a difficult task. Fischler is responsible for providing spectators with event results, standings and athlete bios. Her work will be displayed on-site by huge JumboTron screens. Her challenge: creating informative yet entertaining fare for feisty first-graders and their moms.

Music—an omnipresent and integral part of most of the events—is equally tough to select for these crowds. It needs to fall comfortably somewhere between the industrial rock of Nine Inch Nails and the easy-listening stylings of the Mamas and the Papas. "We lean toward what you might call pop alternative," says Fischler. (Translation: Expect heavy rotation of supergroups U2 and REM.)

It was REM who recorded "It’s the End of the World As We Know It (and I Feel Fine)." That pop alternative classic could describe some La Jollans’ feelings toward the X Games. In a highly publicized rift, residents and officials at UCSD’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography told ESPN to have fun—but not in their backyards.

Games organizers wanted to use La Jolla Shores Drive as a street luge and downhill in-line skating course. Protests were aired at a community meeting. Mayor Susan Golding and City Coun cil man Harry Mathis—despite their overall support for hold ing the Games in San Diego—claimed ignorance of the plan to use La Jolla Shores Drive. Subsequently ESPN backed off, but privately, X Games officials say it was representatives of the city who first took scouting crews to the La Jolla site.

There are too many reasons not to use the steep, winding road, according to Sherri Lightner, chair of the La Jolla Shores Association. She says blocking off the road could have proven disastrous if emergency vehicles had needed to get through. Lightner also says the publicity would have attracted late-night skateboarders and bicyclists long after the event. "And it’s a major thoroughfare," she adds. "It would have curtailed Scripps’ business."

"That was a very unfortunate situation," says Weinert. "La Jolla Shores Drive was doable, and we could have appeased people who live and work there. And it would have been great publicity for this area. The ABC broadcast in particular is going to feature the luge competition."

The luge and downhill in-line skating events will be held instead on Rancho del Oro Road in Oceanside, and North Jetty Beach in Oceanside Harbor will be the landing point for sky-surfing competitors.

Closing roads for luge courses, traffic concerns, finding 2,800 local volunteers and accommodating the needs of nesting least terns in Mission Beach are only a sampling of logistical headaches involved for Games organizers. Even though local officials granted ESPN a permit for Mission Beach, for example, a final okay from the Coastal Commission wasn’t scheduled to be granted until May 13—less than six weeks out.

But the "resistance" they’ve received is not unprecedented, says ESPN’s Stiepock. "The first year in Providence, their city council vote was just 4 to 3 in favor of hosting us," he says. Some Rhode Islanders were anxious hosts as newspaper editorials decried the Games. But, notes Stiepok, not only did Providence civic leaders eventually change their minds, newspaper editorialists actually retracted negative pieces. After a two-year run, Providence was sorry to see the Xers go.

For good reason.

The 1995 Extreme Games had a significant economic impact on Rhode Island. According to a report by the Office of Travel, Tourism and Recreation at the University of Rhode Island, the Games generated total direct sales of $10.4 million, including direct production expenditures by ESPN ($7.4 million) and personal expenditures by athletes and spectators ($2.9 million); TV promotion of the state as a tourist attraction, the value of such publicity estimated at $5 million; and attendance totaling 133,500, including 35,400 non–Rhode Island residents.

ESPN officials say the 1996 Games generated close to $20 million for the Rhode Island economy. At least that much is expected in San Diego, says Mayor Golding.

And the Games should greatly aid city promotional efforts, according to Rich Fein stein, coordinating producer for the X Games. He says a total of 37 hours of coverage will be shown on ESPN (21 hours), ESPN2 (15 hours) and ABC (one hour on a special June 21 Wide World of Sports). Most of the ESPN and ESPN2 coverage will begin each night in prime time and run to 11 p.m. The broadcasts will reach 66 million American homes and more than 90 million worldwide.

"Telling the story of where we’re broadcasting from is important for our audience," notes Feinstein. He says local historians and the San Diego International Sports Council have been working to compile material.

Michael "Biker" Sherlock agrees that hosting the X Games will bring national attention to San Diego. That pleases the Pacific Beach resident. Sherlock owns a skateboard shop in Sorrento Valley and happens to be last year’s luge gold medalist. Don’t get him started on this year’s luge course brouhaha—he’s upset with "rich La Jolla people" and Mayor Golding, who he says "called us a bunch of crazy athletes. Hey, I’m a professional athlete."

For the uninitiated, a luge is an 8-foot-long aluminum skateboard. Wearing a helmet and an aerodynamic jumpsuit, racers lie down on their boards. Plunging down hills feet first, lugers have achieved speeds up to 88 miles per hour. Like Fred Flintstone, racers drag their shoes on the road to brake. Sherlock says he goes through about 100 pairs of Converse sneakers in a year.

Despite the unconventional reputation of the sport, Sherlock claims it has universal appeal. "I taught my 59-year-old dad to do it, and I taught my 110-pound girlfriend, too," he says.

Sherlock can’t wait for the arrival of family members and friends who’ll travel from New Jersey to watch him compete in the Games. "That’s at least 30 people who will stay in hotels and eat at restaurants here," he says.

And if the past is any clue, Sherlock fans—and maybe a quarter of a million others—will boost the San Diego economy again in 1998. "Because of certain economies of scale, it makes sense for us to spend two years in each city," says Stiepok. Using La Jolla Shores Drive as a luge course in ’98 actually remains a possibility, says Weinert—though La Jollan Lightner isn’t making any promises.

"If it were only one or two days, it might not be so bad," she concedes, noting that her son, John, is an avid skateboarder who is very excited about the X Games. "But even if it were just one or two days, there would still be opposition."

Site disputes grab the attention of the media. But political issues will hardly be on the minds of the myriad of spectators who’ll be here for the Games. Same goes for the athletes. They’ll have can-cans, fakies and tailwhips to worry about; sweeps, flakes and z-drags to practice; handplants, ollies and dirt-dives to perfect. (Translation: Let the Games begin.)
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