So here we are just over a week after the event, yet it remains one topic virtually the whole flatland community is still talking about or has an opinion on. Held at the prestigious Cirque D’Hiver near the centre of Paris, the interest FlatRing generated both within and outside the community is remarkable. From the international contingent it attracted, to the amount of non-riding spectators who attended and the overall atmosphere of the whole affair, it becomes easy to see why. Those of us fortunate enough to be there witnessed an intoxicating display of elite riding skills, culminating in one of the most hotly contested, emotionally charged battle sequences ever seen between two of flatland’s finest athletes.
The location: Cirque D’Hiver Bouglione de Paris
The Cirque D’Hiver Bouglione, literally meaning ‘Winter Circus’ dates back to the 19th Century and traditionally plays host to a variety of performing arts, from dressage to jugglers to opera. From outside it is reminiscent of a miniature coliseum and this impression carries through to the steeply tiered seating arrangement inside. As you enter the main arena your eyes are drawn first across the vast dome-shaped, Rococo style ceiling above, then towards the rows of velvety red seating that surround it, and finally to the circular floor below. These features are captured explicitly during the opening sequence of Martin’s video….so what about that riding surface? At around 20 metres in diameter, what stands out the most from a rider’s perspective is the circular ridge in the centre, some 10mm wide in places and very distinct in elevation. Whilst some riders appeared unaffected by it, you could see others doing their best to avoid riding anywhere near it.
The competition format for FlatRing was simple enough – the best riders in the world battling head to head, b-boy style until a victor is declared. This was no easy invite and ride event however; all the riders had to qualify for their place in the finals. The organizers allowed spectators in to watch the qualifying where it became evident this would be one serious flatland comp. Nobody was holding back, including the DJ’s who for me played their best sets prior to the main event. Matt and Martti both took heavy falls during qualifying but fortunately neither seemed affected and for the latter, if anything it appeared to increase his resolve and determination. Matt’s in particularly looked very nasty; what you must realize is that he was traveling at about 10 mph towards a sea of bar ends, footpegs and pedals…and fortunately emerges without a scratch. The level of competition was sky high and the list of riders who did not make the final battle rounds is testament to this; Hiroya Morisaki, Frank Lucas and Matti Rose to name but 3.
Beyond qualifying, the crowds outside began to gather from around 18:45. Notably the crowd consisted of not just riders and fans, whole families came out to watch the show. The tight but very polite Cirque security staff would not allow anyone inside before 19:30, which only added to the overall sense of anticipation. With 5 minutes to go before the scheduled opening the waiting crowds became a touch restless, eager for the evening’s entertainment to commence. And what a show they would get!
Scott O’brien got things underway by ushering the riders and judges out to greet the assembled audience. Each rider was greeted by raptuous applause from the crowd and as they lined the arena, the energy level inside the Cirque began to increase. A number of riders took this opportunity to bust a simple combo or two; others cooly took their place beside. Once all the riders had been introduced, it was the turn of the judges who included Lee Musselwhite, Chad Johnson, Green-G from Japan and Chase Gouin…who continued this intro-busting with a megaspin to opposite megaspin combo that had all the riders cheering in unison. This was Chase, after all…
The competition format included a last-chance-qualifier for the 10 riders who did not make it through the preliminary rounds, giving them their chance to battle it out in the final. This was the first time any of the riders had to perform in front of the full audience, screaming kids and all! It must have been quite intimidating to qualify under those conditions, which clearly favoured those whose riding thrives under pressure. Sergio Ricardo got things underway with his stylish
blend of front wheel and rear wheel tricks, often jumping from front straight into rear wheel links. Egged on by Scott, ‘Balu’ had about 3 attempts at a fresh looking steamroller/ barflip combo until Alex Jumelin called time. With one more attempt Balu would have nailed that link, but the schedule was tight and there were plenty more riders eager to earn their place in the finals. Incidentally Alex J looked like the busiest person anywhere at FlatRing, and could be seen riding, playing MC, organizing things behind the scenes and being Dad - surely the most difficult combo seen all night! Matti Rose rode a solid qualiying run with his backward steamroller to hitch hiker switches, mostly pulled without any touches; everyone knows Matti has a box full of tricks front and rear but unfortunately stayed off his rear wheel this evening. Frank Lucas appeared to suffer more than most with regard to the irregular riding surface, and at the end of his last qualifying run gestured helplessly to the gap that moments earlier stumbled his run.
With last-chance qualifying over it was time for the main event – the final battles. The atmosphere was reaching fever pitch now, with Scott in top form doing his best to drown out the DJs and the DJs doing their best to out-do the crowd. This amazing amphitheatre of light and sound and people formed the perfect backdrop for what was to follow.
Finals and judging
Highlights? The whole event was one BIG highlight and huge thanks must go to the riders, the organisers Cream, Braun, Vans, X-treme channel, the manufacturers and everyone who helped put this event together, and all the fans that showed up
It must have been a nightmare trying to judge some of the final battles. Not only was the riding level so high, the influence of the crowd would have been difficult to ignore. Local rider Matthias Danois really stirred the audience whenever he took to the floor, as did other locals Alex Jumelin and Raphael Chiquet. From a spectator’s point of view, the battle between Matthias and Matt in the ¼ finals was particularly close. Matt was combining front and rear wheel tricks in his battle run, including that amazing pedal megaspin turbine, half hiker turbines and his no-handed upside down megaspin, punctuating his runs with very quick bar switches. Matthias looked ultra smooth and dialled, and displayed plenty of pumped hiker spins to steamroller to no-handed x-footed wheelchair spins. The decision could have gone either way and while Matthias got the verdict, both looked like they were enjoying themselves and thrilled to be there. If those two were thrilled, Wolfgang Sauter was positively ecstatic! Riding his new signature frame and sporting 6 pegs he danced across that rear tyre, effortlessly combining backyard glide to gerator to junkyard turbines, with those caboose to bike
varials that have become his trademark. It was a joy to watch Ryoji Yamamoto ride in the 1/8 final against Jeff Desroche. Yanmar had that cheeky grin spread all over his face throughout, and despite not pulling all of his combos cleanly was obviously having a ball. Jeff too had a few touches during his runs too, but whipped his way into the ¼ finals with a very powerful display of riding including a wicked junkyard turbine move that threatened to cause a tornado as he went by.
By the time we reached the semi finals a pattern was emerging and it soon became evident who would be battling for the FlatRing trophy. The semi line up was essentially a battle between two teams – KHE vs KGB with Viki vs Justin Miller and Martti Kuoppa riding against Matthias. Viki had some new works of art on display including frontyard to 360 varial to frontyard, and Matthias continued to raise the roof with more wheelchair turbine to steam to half hiker spin combinations. If the crowd had their way Matthias would have won for sure, but Martti and Justin had other ideas…
Prior to the final battle, we were treated to a battle of another kind – two breakdance crews took centre stage. Both crews were astonishing, many of whom would not look out of place in a gymnastics competition. And their performance was in many ways analogous to the final battle between Martti and Justin. Lots of cajoling, jeering and showmanship, just as you would expect in a battle of this nature. It is understandable why flatland has borrowed from hip hop culture so heavily, given that they both emerged around the same time back in the day. It looks as though the battle format in flatland comps is here to stay, so perhaps this is a good time to remember why breakdance crews began battling in the first place; as a means to resolve conflict.
When Scott announced Martti and Justin had made the final, immediately you could feel the tension inside the Cirque switching up a gear. Martti glanced at Justin, Justin glanced back and it was game on. The last battle will remain in the minds of everyone who saw it for a long time to come, such was its intensity and pace. In many ways it was unfortunate that a winner had to be declared, but this was a competition and while Martti won the final battle with a blistering series of combos, Justin also rode the wheels of his bike. Overall, there could be only one winner that fine evening in Paris…and the winner by a clear margin was FLATLAND.
What better way could there be to end this review than by hearing from the maestros themselves, who have kindly agreed to share their thoughts with us.
Martti Kuoppa about the Flatring
First of all I am very happy about my victory at the FlatRing. Since I had such a difficult year last year with my injuries made this 1st place even more tasteful...
As for the final battle... Everyone saw my attitude and the way I was behaving and some propably had problems with that but let me tell you this: Battles are battles, you need to be prepared on all kinds of mind games to brake the nerves of the opponent. There is not a written rule about what can you do there and what not. For me crossing line is to show the middle finger or touch the other rider which I did not do and will never do. Also some people said that I snaked Justin’s turns which is not true. I was so much into my riding there that I lost control for a little while and once Alex and Scott called me out for that I stopped the cross footed halfhiker after 4 seconds to give Justin a turn to ride. But yes, I was playing a mind game but for me it is just a part of the game and anyone can try that on me next time it is time to battle, I’m already waiting!!
I also want people to remember that I am an entertainer. I enjoy when I can make the crowd laugh and stand out from their seats. That´s Something we need in flatland in my opinion. I do my own thing regardless people like it or not.
Justin Miller about the Flatring
I was only in paris for 24 hours total. I couldn't miss school so I flew out friday and arrived saterday morning, at 11, with 3 hours sleep. I had one connection through Detroit, but at my original destination my flight was cancled and I had to drive 2 hours, at 90mph, so I could make my international flight out of Detroit. With 30 or so minutes to spare I boarded the plane and was off to paris for the weekend.
The only thing that I really didn't like about the contest was how small the area was. I really don't like riding infront of all the riders who are waiting for there turn. I just don't feel comfortable. The floor was ok i thought except for the size.
When the battles started me and terry were picked to ride against each other. I really didnt want to ride against him because we are good friends. After a few more battles I made the final one and the first thing Martti did was point at me. I think trying to tell me this is a battle to the death lol. I know this is what he wanted and has wanted since singapore. It really didn't matter to me.
So the battle started and I did two good combos at the beginning and after landing my second one that’s when the whole vibe of the contest changed I think. Maybe he felt scared i was beating him so the only way to beat me was to snake me and only let me ride 2 more times. I think I went out there like 6 times and he tried at least double the about of combos I did. He just wouldn't let me ride. It pissed me off during the contest which he wanted to do so it would mess with my head, it did. I think that it wasn't right to do that to a fellow rider because i would have never done that to anyone. I may get mad at contest about my riding, but I never take it out on other riders and not let them ride.
If this is the way he wanted to battle me then more power to him. I really don't care and i think it was selfish of him to do that to me. I've never had a problem with him and have always been nice and good friends with him. I think the contest could have been much better if we could have taken turns and battled each other fairly, but i guess he just wanted a show of himself.
I'm not mad at him for what he did it was his choice. I had a pretty good time and hope it happens again. After sleeping 3 hours on the plane and riding in the contest all day I think I did pretty good. I spent a total of 24 hours there and Monday went back to school. Thanks Alain for the great contest and everyone who put it together.
Battles and results