Japan Trip: Circle of Balance 2007

Tokyo, Japan – COB 3 was crazy. Do I have to say more ? Well, probably yes. So let’s go fast backward. How the hell did I get to Japan ? At the beginning of the year I asked Andy Zeiss for some information about the upcoming COB. Just for fun I asked him if there is a donation account for poor online mags. He got back to me and asked for some time to think about cooperation. A few weeks later I was invited to visit the third round of the Circle of Balance!
“Jesus titty fucking christ” – Chris Job (Ride UK).

Welcome to Japan

Tuesday 20th and Wednesday 21st February: Time to leave Germany. Our direct flight from Germany to Japan took off in the evening. Together with Wolfgang Sauter, Martti Kuoppa, Michael Sommer, Michiel Verberg and image Georg Oberlechner I tried to waste the 11 hours of the flight – quite successful. I did only sleep for a few minutes in the plane to prevent the jetlag which turned out to be a great idea. 4 PM we arrived at Narita International Airport, about 60 km away from Tokyo. We met the UK Crew in the baggage claim area and went to the shuttle bus together. About 1.5 hours later we arrived at the hotel where Andy Zeiss was already waiting for us. Greetings, room keys and then you only had to decide which one of the 12 elevators you have to take to get to your room. Yes, the hotel was quite big.
After a short panic attack (no mobile phone connection, no internet access) I decided to look for an internet café. I met the US guys and Michiel and we left the hotel together for dinner. Ordering food turned out to be quite easy because you can see plastic models of the food in a vitrine in front of most restaurants.
Later on we found the WLAN hotspot of the hotel and I got the first news posted: Welcome to Japan .

Playing the tourist

Thursday 22th of February: After some hours of beauty sleep I woke up at 6 in the morning. No jetlag – perfect. In the morning I walked around with Effraim and Chris Job in the surrounding area of the hotel and took some random photos:

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image In the afternoon we explored the city by bus and boat. We had a nice Japanese guide who gave us those typically cool tour bus comments: “now on the left side you can see the Imperial Palace, the Imperial Palace on the left side”. Later on we visited some kind of temple where Scott proved his ninja skills (photo on the right side).
The sightseeing tour was quite relaxed and afterwards the official welcome dinner took place. The plan was to draw the opponents for the first six battles after the dinner. For some reason it was postponed to the next day.

At night we ended up in a club watching a rap and breakdance show. I realized that Raphael Chiquet is the French dancing king and that Japanese bouncers can be as unfriendly as European ones. Fortunately we had our Japanese guides with us and Kotaro Tanaka drove us back to the hotel in his ultra-cool A-Team-style-van. Thanks!

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It’s getting serious

Friday – practice day. In the morning I went to the city once more together with Bobby Carter, Fat Tony and Chris Job. We wanted to check out the fine art of Japanese cinematics and visited a huge porn store. All of us stepped out again with an unobtrusive black bag that we showed around in the hotel quite proudly:

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The first practice session was scheduled after lunch around 1PM. The Stellar Ball was part of our hotel and it’s normally used as a concert hall. When we arrived there a couple of riders were already practising. The contestimage floor and stands were already built up so the practice took place on the contest floor. The floor was made of wood and painted with a very rough kind of color. You could say: 100% slip-proof - for some riders it was probably too much grip. Once you lost speed during a combo it was hard to speed up again. I remember especially Mike S wasn’t happy about the floor but for very fast energetic riders like Kotaro it was probably a blessing.
Size matters – the floor was surrounded by big stands and big enough for about 4 or 5 riders to practice at the same time. The whole location was smaller compared to the previous COBs so there was no space for an additional practice area. After the first practice session of the day the lightcheck and soundcheck started. Riders were allowed to keep riding during the checks to maximize the available practice time. In the afternoon the second official practice session started.
There was also a photo session with the local press in the afternoon. Judging from the number of photographers and press people who showed up, the interest in flatland seems to be really big in Japan compared to European measures.

Circle of Balance 2007

Saturday 24th of February: The big COB showdown in Tokyo was close. The white sofas for the judges were in position. Dozens of cameras and the corresponding press people were prepared. 1100 people were waiting outside the Stellar Ball in anticipation of a great evening. And of course 18 of the world’s best riders were ready for action.
Just in time the doors were opened and the crowd started to stream towards the three big stands. Several people told me that the crowd consisted of flatlanders for the most part – quite impressive.

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As soon as everybody sat down the Circle of Balance 2007 started with a lightshow underlining the introduction of the two Japanese MCs. After a lot of introducing Japanese words the riders were presented to the audience. Everybody seemed to be quite motivated so the first round of battles can start.
Now a tough job began for five people on 2 white sofas: Effraim Catlow (UK), Alexis Desolneux (FR), Michiel Verberg (NL), Takashi Ito (JP), Ufo (JP) and head judge Bart de Jong also representing FatBMX from the Netherlands. Now it was up to those five guys to decide who is going to leave the Stellar Ball in the middle of the night as the winner. Effraim Catlow described the situation like this:

imageWhat an honour to be asked to judge and give your opinion at the worlds premier flatland event, even better that it was in Japan, a place I’ve always wanted to visit after seeing KOG footage on the flatland manifesto videos over the years, not to mention the awesome riders that come to Europe every year.

As we the judges were introduced to the audience I felt the same feeling as when I enter a contest, I was buzzing, adrenalin and also butterflies, this was a big deal, judging was hard work, as it always is, but more so, because almost everyone messed up, the decision had to be quick, but I feel as though I did a good job, you could feel tension as we were so close to the riding arena. It was a fantastic experience that I will never forget. The crowd were almost all flatlanders, where else would you see that, this was an insane contest, that showed flatland in the right way. I’m inspired by the positive energy the riders have there, flatlanders worldwide also can learn a lot by the way Japanese society as well conducts itself. A true eye opening trip for me. - Effraim Catlow (UK)

During the first two rounds each battle consisted of a group of 3 riders and 2 of them would make it to the next round. I heard there was a group leader for each group chosen before the event and then 2 more riders were assigned by lot. But this selection process wasn’t 100% clear to me and not public.
Since we put almost the whole event online in the form of videos, I won’t try to name or describe single tricks and combos. I filmed almost the whole event from the view of the judges so you can make your own decisions. But to give you an overview here is a graphic - winners are bold:


On FatBMX you can read a report that really describes the course of the battles, I’m not going to rewrite it ;-)

In the end my assumption concerning the final battle turned out to be 50% correct. Hiro made it through all the battles up to the final one. I assumed that Martti would be the second finalist but in the ¼ final he lost the battle against Viki who was ripping it up like the devil this evening.
In the final Hiro and Viki tried to keep up the high level but both didn’t managed to pull all their super hard combos. So the judges had to make a decision and once more Viki won a final battle against Hiro in Tokyo (remember last year’s KOG final ).


Some voices said this could have been the last Circle of Balance. But let's wait three years again, maybe there will be a COB 2010 on the moon!

Last but not least once more a big big thanks to Red Bull, Andy Zeiss, Yasu and his crew and all the other people who made this event and trip possible!

Check out the video and photo section for more coverage.

2007-03-19 - Martin