Downhill Skateboarding – Cameron Highlands, Malaysia

Extract from Sports the Olympics Forgot

The road from the hill station The Cameron Highlands down to the plains of Malaysia is ideal for skateboarding as there are long stretches of steep downhill road where skateboarders can build up great speed. On the third weekend of May skateboarders from all over the world come to the area to take part in the annual boarding extravaganza. This event also hosts the official skateboarding relay world championships over one and two miles.

For the relay events teams of four compete in heats, quarter-finals, semi-finals, and the final for the world championship trophy. As in any athletics event the first past the post is the winner unless there has been an infringement further up the course. In the relays the only problems, other than crashes, are in the three handover zones, an area 100 yards in length where the baton must be passed between the racers. In 2013, the Jamaican team won both relay races in new world records, 1 minute 12 seconds in the mile and 2 minutes and 7 seconds in the two mile race. Due to the steepness of the road there have been a number of severe accidents, especially in 2008 when the road was wet. In the first of the 1-mile semi-finals the Italian boarding the third leg slipped on a tight bend and brought down the other boarders taking them all off the road and down a steep ravine. The Italian team was barred from all future events for five years and it was decided to ban contestants from smoking while racing down the road.

 

The individual events also take place over one and two miles but people don’t race against each other, so the fastest individual time in each race wins the prize. The one mile straight race has been won by Manbir Grewal from Mumbai the most often, with 6 wins between 2004 and the present day. His time of 1 minute and 13.5 seconds in 2007 is the course record. Grewal also holds the record for the 2 mile race, jointly with Basil Wu from Taiwan, of 2 minutes and 10 seconds, which they both set in 2009 the only time there’s been a dead heat. Wu’s speciality was to race downhill while doing a handstand in a Superman pose, which reduced air resistance. This worked well until 2012 when he fell off on a steep bend and broke both arms.

 

The obstacles event is run over a 2 mile course; boarders have to navigate seventy different objects placed in their path, ranging from trailers to concrete blocks and tripwires. Dimitri Stepanov holds the record with 5 wins between 1998 and 2006, although he had to retire after the 2008 race when he misjudged the height of a low-loader and hit his head on the metalwork knocking him unconscious. A repeat episode could have resulted in severe brain injuries and he took the specialist’s advice to give up the sport.

 

The most difficult race of the extravaganza is the cones pick up race over 2 miles. This is the event where elbow pads, knee pads, and helmets are mandatory. The individual boarders, racing against the clock, have to pick up 17 cones placed every 200 yards on the course. The cones are made of foam and are eighteen inches high. The cones are placed across the whole width of the road in such a manner that favours neither left-handed nor right-handed boarders. The boarder must cross the finishing line holding all 17 cones or he/she is disqualified. Imbee Park from South Korea is the absolute master of this event; she is a former gymnast who has impeccable balance on the board and so can crouch down on her haunches and grab the cones as they pass, storing them on her board rather than holding them, which reduces wind resistance. Park won the event every year between 2001 and 2010, except for 2008 when she was pregnant and was advised not to race.

 

The other event held is the long jump. A specially built sandpit three hundred feet long and 3 yards wide is the designated landing area. Boarders take off from a 30-foot ramp that’s inclined at a 20 degree angle. The boarder must land on his board and not on his feet otherwise a no-jump is registered. There are six rounds of jumping as in traditional athletics events. The most exciting element is the run-up to the take-off ramp, which can be up to one mile long depending on the comfort levels of the boarder in the event. As might be expected there have been many accidents, which is why the sandpit is surrounded by padded cushions that envelope the boarder on impact. The longest jump ever recorded was 276 feet nine inches by Harald Erbst from Germany taking the full mile run-up.

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