Records are meant to be broken. In most sports, records are also meant to be revered, discussed at length and argued about heatedly after one too many beers at the corner pub. A record is not, however, meant to be humbly handed over out of respect for the athlete who is attempting to break it. Last night, I believe that is what I witnessed. And, although I also believe this will be argued about by sport purists in the days to come, it was perhaps one of the most impressive feats of sportsmanship I have ever encountered.
But first, to fully understand what took place, you’ll need a bit of back-story:
Mat Hoffman is a BMX rider credited with fathering the sport of freestyle BMX as it is known today. He is the first action sports athlete we put on the cover of ESPN The Magazine, back in August 2005, when we called him The Toughest Man in Sports. In the early 90s, in an attempt to push his sport beyond its unspoken boundaries, Hoffman began building 20-foot-tall quarterpipes (what are now referred to as super-quarterpipes) in his backyard in Edmond, Okla. On these ramps—the precursors to today’s mega-ramps—Hoffman began setting height records on his bike. More than once, he nearly killed himself in the attempt. But his most recent world record of 26 ½ feet above a 23-foot-tall ramp has stood since 2004.
Kevin Robinson is a 36-year-old BMX rider who’s ridden for Hoffman Bikes for 16 years. “Mat took a chance on me,” Kevin says. “I was a skinny, 120-pound kid from Rhode Island, but he saw something in me.” Robinson has since competed in every X Games since its inception in 1995 and distinguished himself as one of the best BMX vert and mega-ramp riders in the world. On Thursday night, in a tribute to his mentor, Robinson attempted to break Hoffman’s world height record. “Mat doesn’t get enough credit for inventing the mega-ramp,” Robinson said. “I’m dedicating this jump to him.”
The state-of-the-art ramp, which featured a 40- and 60-foot roll-in and a 27-foot-tall quarterpipe—and million-dollar-plus production budget—was a far cry from the days of Hoffman’s self-built ramps and motorcycle tow-ins. But even with technology Hoffman could have only dreamed of in 1992, Robinson was falling short. After a few attempts, and few hard falls, it looked like he might not break Hoffman’s record after all. The TV window had ended and the crowd was growing restless. At this point, an announcer informed the crowd that the measuring device was not working, and that, instead, video cameras would be placed at the top of the smaller, 40-foot roll-in across from the quarterpipe and Kevin’s height would be determined by a committee also seated on the roll-in. The committee chairman: Mat Hoffman.
On his next attempt, Robinson landed cleanly and awaited his height. “The official height is 26 feet, seven inches,” the announcer said. He’d beaten the record by one inch. Not satisfied, Robinson made one final attempt, and again rode away clean. Official height: 27 feet, his pre-set goal.
After the event, I spoke to Hoffman. He said he wasn’t happy with the way the height was being recorded—by cameras placed higher than the record height, which skewed their point of view. “They were making it impossible,” he said. “To me, too much gets lost in the number. A record is about pushing the sport and doing something no one else can. That’s how it should be graded. So I took control. I told them I would form a committee, go up to the top of the roll-in, and tell them how high he was. I didn’t want anyone else telling him when he’d broken the record.”
But, an inch? That’s some precise eyesight.
“I’m good,” Hoffman said. “We’re a tight committee.”
THE RECORD ATTEMPT …