New challenge for Maddo elicits new admission

(Joe Tessitore will host ESPN's Red Bull: New Year No Limits, Wednesday, Dec. 31, at 11 pm ET.)

"I will second-guess myself," Robbie Maddison said. "Right before the jump is when I'll be at my worst. It's a head game."

A head game?


Somebody grab the "Red Bull athlete dictionary." Look those words up. Does that even make sense coming from him? I didn't know he was capable of such talk. Please translate now!

The man they call Maddo for more than just his surname actually gave us similar quotes to other professional athletes. Sounds like the same chatter of those who experience hesitation before performing under pressure. Daily harvested sports sound bites usually focus on game-winning field goals, tournament-deciding birdie putts or inning-closing pitches -- not risking your life!

This jump scares the hell out of me.

-- Robbie Maddison

Maddo is an athlete who somehow has proven you can balance baffling fearlessness, disciplined athleticism and scientific certainty. Still, there are those moments when he reveals that he's one of us.

"This jump scares the hell out of me," he concedes.

Last year he never did that. Robbie never told us he was scared. It's because he never was.

Those of us who prepared to deliver Robbie Maddison to the world on the first "New Year, No Limits" had a good handle on his mindset. You never had the sense that the Dec. 31, 2007 football-field jump had a lot to do with danger.

The 26-year-old Australian's world-record-setting distance jump was jaw-dropping. However, it was nothing more than pushing the limits of a known and familiar accomplishment for Maddo. He jumped his motorcycle high and far. He has done that his whole life. It was like Kobe Bryant practicing half-court swishes instead of 3-pointers. That's not what this "Red Bull: New Year, No Limits" main event (Dec. 31 on ESPN at 11 p.m. ET or immediately following the Chick-fil-A Bowl) is about.

"There was one day recently when I looked up at the scaffolding and I didn't have it in me," Robbie admitted. "I couldn't even practice the jump."

The idea of jumping to the top of the Arc de Triomphe and then free-falling back down isn't something you just easily digest. How could you? The mere thought of it is outrageous. It seemed as if the echo of Robbie's two-stroke 500cc was still ringing through our New Year ears on 1-1-08 when talk of "What's next?" started up.

If this Arc de Triomphe jump was proposed at that point it would have been laughed off. Now the stuff of late-night bar-room one-upsmanship is a multimillion-dollar event and TV production. Only in America!

His bike has a rubber divot skateboard grip cover applied to it. That's for Robbie to stay closely attached. It's understandable. There's nothing worse than being 110 feet in the air over the Vegas Strip and detaching from your motorcycle. Of course, no one has ever experienced it. Robbie doesn't want to be the first.

There are many firsts with this jump. His free-fall from the Arc will be 50 feet of pure gravity just doing its job. Imagine sitting on a motorcycle and having somebody push you off the edge of an office building. And then there is the moment of ummmmm-ohhhhh. What do you really call it? The sound of anticipation getting over the hump says it all. It will be the most replayed moment of the entire jump. The point at which Robbie hits the highest height and there is nothing left.

"There is that time when I'm frightened that I'm not going to make it," Robbie told us. "My speed is decreasing, it's 10 feet before the top, I am heading up to the top of the building but I am almost stopped."

This is what he's experienced at lower heights in practice sessions. Those moments were in a completely controlled environment with a safety and scaffolding system in place. Now imagine that moment of "I am almost stopped" when his sky-flying bike is parallel with the edge of the Arc de Triomphe.

Maddo will have his back to the asphalt 100 feet below, his eyes glaring at the moon and his bike running out of juice. The hope is that the Arc roof will eventually be the destination. But those few seconds, those precious few breaths of the unknown result, that's what grabs us. That's why you'll watch.

"This jump is making me age a lot more than last year's," Robbie acknowledged.

Sounds perfect. Just what we were all trying to get out of his encore.