Brown shakes off Big Air plunge in X Games return

LOS ANGELES – It might have been funny had it not been potentially deadly.

Skateboarder Jake Brown’s legs churned in midair like he was trying to run. His shoes shot off in different directions when he slammed to the ground. His body looked like a rag doll as he slid to the base of the ramp. Minutes later he was smoking a cigarette.

It looked like a fall Wile E. Coyote would take.

And now the 33-year-old Australian wants to shake it off and try it all again. Well, parts of it anyway.

It was opening night at last year’s X Games XIII when Brown sped up the mega ramp in his fifth and final run in the Skateboard Big Air competition that he was leading, pulled off an improbable 720 over the mega ramp’s 70-foot gap, but drifted out away from the quarterpipe lip and plunged more than 40 feet to the ground, trying to fall on his side and avoid breaking his legs.

“Do I get another run?” were his first words to friend Jason Ellis after he regained consciousness.

It took a year, but he will get another chance Thursday night as he faces off against defending champion Bob Burnquist, the event’s virtual inventor Danny Way and others on opening night in what is sure to be the most closely watched moment of X Games XIV.

Brown dismissed any extra attention he may be getting.

“There’s always a lot of people watching,” Brown said in a phone interview Wednesday. “It’s a skateboard competition.”

The fall immediately became a viral video sensation, sending a collective cringe through thousands of viewers.

Brown lay motionless for nearly 5 minutes before getting up and walking off. He was left with a broken wrist, where he still has a metal pin, and cracked vertebrae.

“Oh man, that was the heaviest slam we’ve ever seen,” a somber Tony Hawk said on the telecast as he watched an unconscious Brown.

The image of the falling Aussie dominated the rest of the games.

Two days after the accident he appeared smiling and walking in front of the X Games crowd at Home Depot Center in the closest thing action sports has had to a Willis-Reed moment.

“I’m doing great. I’m still walking. That’s more than I can ask for,” Brown told the crowd. “I can’t wait to come back.”

He could later be seen smiling and walking around the X Games flashing the energy drink that sponsors him.

Partiers at the games’ closing extravaganza chanted his name over hip-hop tunes.

The celebrity brought by the fall will likely not be matched, despite the incredible style and innovation he brings to vert skating. It even earned him an appearance on the CNN show of Larry King, who Brown called “a cool cat.”

He kept to smaller, more ordinary ramps when he returned to skating, and only headed back atop the mega ramp after six months. He said the fear wasn’t worse than the sort that always comes riding the behemoth ramp.

“I was a little bit scared but it wasn’t that bad,” Brown said. “I was just on it last night and it was the same.”

He said dealing with nasty slams is just part of the game.

“It was the worst one but that doesn’t mean it’s going to affect me more,” Brown said.

Brown won his second straight silver despite the spill, and will certainly have the judges’ sympathy when he ascends the Staples Center elevator looking for his first gold Thursday night.

The pin in his wrist could put limits on his arm, but Brown says “it’s strong enough to do whatever I need to do.”

Brown also bruised his heel five days ago on the mega ramp that Burnquist owns, but plans to skate through it.

Burnquist won the gold medal last year with an ollie 180 into a frontside 540 that came immediately after he watched Brown’s fall and sent him past Brown in the standings.

Way, who designed the mega ramp, returns to the competition after sitting out last year with a ligament injury. He had won gold the year before.

“Danny Way’s skating insane, Bob Burnquist is skating insane, so I’ve got a lot of work to do,” Brown said.

On the same night as Brown’s return, Travis Pastrana, the X Games darling of two years ago, will make his own comeback as he competes in Moto X Best Trick after taking a year off to focus on Rally Car and Moto X racing.

The last time he was in the event he pulled off the first double backflip in competition, giving the X Games its most memorable moment and beginning an unprecedented week in which he won three gold medals.

He’ll return to his specialty of flips and whips this year along with Rally Car, an event in which he won a bronze last year.

Other highlights of the week include the debut in Moto X Step Up of Ricky Carmichael, the Michael Jordan of motocross racing, in his first foray into X Games freestyle on Friday night.

The weekend will bring the first women’s motocross at the X Games and the debut of the accomplished young rider Ashley Fiolek, who is completely deaf.

And Shaun White, the Hawk protege whose red mane and freckle-faced grin have become a constant in action sports both summer and winter, will skate in Sunday’s Men’s Vert competition, the event in which he broke through with his first summer X Games gold last year.

It will be White’s lone appearance at the games.