THEY JUMPED (FOR OUR LOVE): Over the years, daredevils have been drawn to Vegas for New Year’s Eve stunts, with mixed results
Boxing. Mixed martial arts. Desert rally racing. Wildly ill-advised motorcycle jumps over notable civic landmarks.
Don’t let anyone ever say that Las Vegas doesn’t own its weird sports niches — some staged as New Year’s Eve stunt spectaculars.
Evel Knievel, of course, got the ball (and the bike, and several bones) rolling in 1967 with his New Year’s Eve jump over the Caesars Palace fountains that ended spectacularly poorly if you’re a stunt cyclist, but fantastic if you’re a TV producer.
The allure of horsepower-plus-hang time-plus-Las Vegas would prove irresistible over the years, with Gary Wells trying (and failing) to conquer the Caesars fountains in September 1980 and Knievel’s son, Robbie, exorcising the fountains in April 1989 with a 170-footer that stuck the landing his father couldn’t.
And on New Year’s Eve 2008, things got weird.
Robbie Knievel returned to the city, this time to jump the Mirage volcano live on Fox-TV. They couldn’t even start building the ramps until the day before the stunt, so Knievel’s leap was less “over” the volcano as it was “in front of,” along the Stripe-side sidewalk that fronts the resort. At least there were fireworks, but it wasn’t quite the flames-lapping-at-your-heels spectacle anyone had hoped for.
Meanwhile at the Rio, driver Rhys Millen kicked off the Red Bull: New Year, No Limits special on ESPN by attempting the first-ever backflip in a truck. Millen had tried the stunt a year before but hurt himself in warm-ups, likely because trucks aren’t meant to, you know, do backflips.
Things improved somewhat in 2008 — Millen hit the ramp set up at the Rio’s parking lot and did execute the flip, but hit the dirt landing spot at an angle and rolled his truck back down to level ground. He had to be extracted, but escaped unhurt. Still, those Dukes of Hazzard held serve as the only guys who should be out there catching air in a four-wheel vehicle.
So far, mixed results. Here’s where Australian daredevil/motorbike rider Robbie Maddison comes in that year. Maddison had the most ambitious stunt of that night lined up: a quick hop to the top of the 96-feet-tall Arc de Triomphe at Paris Las Vegas right after the ball dropped in Times Square.
It took Maddison about eight seconds to hit the launch ramp, crest 120 feet in the air and land with a thud on the Arc. That was the easy part.
On his first lap around the top of the Arc, Maddison stopped and peered over the edge at the crowd below. He pumped a fist, then waved.
Second lap, he started to check out his Yamaha YZ 250 to make sure everything was working right.
Third lap, he nodded to a cameraman and then — heart, stomach, and any other body parts you can think of in throat — he went over the edge, in a 60-foot freefall to the landing ramp.
Maddison hit the ramp about halfway up, the back wheel of the bike kicked out at an angle, but the then-27-year-old steadied it and rode out into the Paris entryway where his fiancée/manager Amy Sanders was waiting.
Maddison didn’t come out unscathed. He tore open his hand between the thumb and forefinger, requiring 10 stitches. Small price to pay, physically, though the mental toll may have been higher. “I don’t care if you offered me $10 million — I wouldn’t do it again,” Maddison told Red Bull.
Never say never, pal. It’s been almost 11 years and The Strat’s still out there waiting.
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