Mike Metzger

Confident Rider Back-Flips Into History

By Sonny Amato
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 21, 2006

WOODWARD, Pa. -- In the world of freestyle motocross, there is no substitute for confidence. While Mike Metzger sat on his bike and prepared to jump over the Caesars Palace fountains in Las Vegas, ESPN's live coverage showed a montage of previous attempts to clear the gap.

First it was grainy video of Evel Knievel's infamous crash in 1968 that sent him into a 30-day coma. Next was Gary Wells, who crashed and was badly injured in 1980. Only then did it show Robbie Knievel land the jump in 1989.

But Metzger, one of the pioneers of modern FMX, wasn't on TV to repeat history. Instead, he landed the 125-foot jump while doing a back flip .

"There was no reason to really be worried about it," said Metzger, who has the word "Pain" tattooed on the inside of his mouth. "I knew I could make the jump. And I know that as far as I can jump I can flip."

Distance-jumping events like the Caesars jump aren't what Metzger and his competitors train for. Competitions are about what a biker does in the air, not how far he or she travels. But in the world of action sports, FMX is one of the hottest sports and it is by far the biggest spectacle.

"For lack of a better term, Caesars was stuntman work," Metzger said. "For me, I just got invited and it was televised and an awesome opportunity to do it, have fun and show the world that I'm a confident rider. But as far as the tricks and stuff, that's where the hard work comes in."

Though FMX first became a standalone sport in 1998, it's still in its infancy. And while the progression of tricks in BMX and skateboarding have had peaks and valleys, FMX is still on the fast track.

"The trick level has never stopped progressing -- there's never been a lull," said Kenny Bartram, who was the 2005 FMX Dew Tour champion. "It's so hard to keep up with."

Bartram, whose nickname is "Cowboy" because "it's more politically correct than 'that hick from Oklahoma,' " grew up with every member of his family riding motorcycles.

His great-grandmother was a member of the Motor Maids of America, the first motorcycling organization for women.

Like many FMXers, he started out running cross-country enduros, then moved to supercross races and liked the feeling of air under his wheels.

While the sport has changed rapidly, the biggest change came in 2000, when Carey Hart landed a back flip. Or as he called it, the Hart Attack.

"It changed everything," Metzger said. "And the back flip is kind of a normal jump now. If you're at a competition and you do a back flip, the judges just kind of look at you like you didn't even do anything."

Last year, Metzger worked on adding a flipping nac-nac or can-can to his repertoire.

As for the next big trick?

"It's hard to really say where this is going, because we can't really see the ceiling yet," Bartram said. "I'm not sure it's coming anytime soon."

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