Fantastic celebration of the extreme

2010-08-06 00:00

COVERING the UCI BMX World Championships recently really was a pleasure. As a self-proclaimed football nut, my understanding of “extreme” generally includes shots from range and two-legged challenges.

And while I was aware of the dangers that come with BMX and other biking sports involving ramps, I certainly didn’t expect to encounter them with such regularity over the course of the weekend.

Bodies flying all over the place before crashing to the sand track, and hard, was almost routine. An uncomfortable feeling that almost longed for a rider to fall came over me. Don’t get me wrong, I never wanted anybody to leave Pietermaritzburg in a wheelchair, but the adrenaline rush generated from seeing a grown man fall off his toy while travelling at 60 km/h an hour only to get up and carry on, really was riveting.

In the moments when I was able to blink, close my mouth and look away from the track, something else emerged that was just as intriguing.

Something was happening all around me that was difficult to explain. It wasn’t a physical thing, but more an impression of something distinctly alternative; not at all what one might consider mainstream or normal.

I am used to attending sporting fixtures where the fans wear replica jerseys of the team they are supporting. A glance around the Royal Showgrounds revealed that this wasn’t your average sporting event.

Tattoos, body piercings and crazy hairstyles took the place of replica jerseys and were a common feature of the event’s spectators.

Indeed, it took me a day to realise that my chosen attire would probably not help my cause in interviewing spectators and prominent people in the sport.

By Friday I had rid myself of the collared shirt and shiny black shoes that had resulted in me feeling like an outsider in my home town, and replaced them with something a little more “BMXish”.

A carefully selected cap now hid my distinctly mundane hairstyle and a pair of skinny jeans and dirty sneakers improved my “track cred”, somewhat substantially I thought.

It is a scene that I am not unfamiliar with. It is “rock star”, it is “out there”, it applauds individual difference and it strives to move away from accepting and conforming to societal norms.

I had previously associated movements like this solely with music. The “we don’t listen to commercial music so we will do everything in our power to ensure that our appearance shows that we are different” movement. Think of our Gothic friends. Some people are passionate enough about music to let it dictate their lives.

And it turns out that people are just as passionate about BMX.

Having said this, there was a clear relationship between the event and rock and roll. Black Sabbath, Metallica and anything with loud guitars and elaborate screams was continually heard over the public address system. It lends weight to the alternative nature of the sport. And, I must say, how pleasant it was to be at a function of this magnitude without hearing the monotony of the latest Justin Bieber or Lady Gaga track.

It was our foreign visitors who depicted this movement the most, though, and there were many locals just like me who would have noticed that there was something “different” about being a fan of this extreme sport.

I believe they refer to us as “jocks” — those who have been brought up knowing the importance of being passionate about knock-ons, Sharks coaches and popped collars.

It was so refreshing to see that there exists a social platform for individuals who pride themselves on being different.

It is unfair for us to associate tattoos, piercings and unusual fashion preferences with a lack of ambition, an excessive use of marijuana and downright “craziness”.

There is more to it. The UCI BMX World Championships provided a platform where those who could care less about rugby, football or cricket could get actively involved in supporting a major sporting event, and they didn’t have to do it with us “jocks” giving them dirty looks.

It was a celebration of the eccentric.

They were at home. We were the “strange” ones. And it was fantastic.

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