Pannonian Challenge XX @ Osijek, Croatia

Words: Miljan Milekić

“We have three world champions in the next heat!” announced legendary MC Zack “Catfish” Yankush during the BMX Pro semi-finals, and that was about the time it hit me. This year’s Pannonian is beyond sick. Runs from the mentioned four – Logan Martin, Justin Dowell, Marin Ranteš, and Kostya Andreev just ingrained the realization even more, and at that point, everything was in its place. Three days spent in the park in the tropical heat, fighting billions of mosquitoes, and grabbing just a few hours of sleep a night made sense more than ever and left me wanting more. And the next day, we got more. A lot more. But, I’ll get to it.

Everything started on Wednesday with a photo exhibition and the opening party. We couldn’t be there, so joined the party a day later, along with skateboarders who occupied the skate park. Pannonian Challenge is defacto a BMX contest, with the main focus being on that discipline, but nonetheless, the skateboarding day had much to offer. We didn’t have the chance to see any of the big names, but instead, the contest welcomed some of the best skateboarders in South East Europe. Slovenia-raised, Barcelona-based rider Christoper Khan came on top, combining consistency with a variety of tricks. Slovenian legend Timotej Lampe Ignjić came in second, and the podium was completed by Pannonian Challenge Tour winner, and one of my favorite Croatian riders, Bruno Vranić. The best trick session was marked by Lajos Petrányi and his massive laser flip over the stairs. In the Amateur contest, Adrian Josipović took the win in front of Marko Gojković in the second, and Dominik Vargić in the third place.

Friday was reserved for the discipline I don’t know very well, and the discipline I don’t know at all – inline skate and scooter, the latter being inducted for the first time as a jam session, rather than a contest. As I said earlier, I don’t know much about the inline, but I do love watching it, and there are two or three riders I could watch all day long. One of them is the UK’s Joe Atkinson, who destroyed the skate park. In recent years, he’s delivering top video content, and pretty much stacking wins from wherever he goes. Including this very contest back in 2015. Close behind were Yuto Goto from Japan, who finished in the second, and Dutch blader Jelle Briggeman who ended up in the third place. In the Amateur category, the first three places went to Jan Gašparič, Alexander Helm, and Tom Gelbmann. Along with the inline contest and scooter session, Friday also brought more activities, gathering some of the best street artists (hi Veks!) and b-boys for a graffiti jam, hip hop jam, and breakdance battle. Incorporating all elements of urban culture, the third day came to an end, making room for the weekend and leaving the park for the BMX riders.

On the paper, Saturday was a bit more quiet day at the office, due to the EURO 2020 Qualification football match between Croatia and Wales that took place in Osijek. In reality, things were a little bit different. The day started with BMX Amateur qualifications, continued with the BMX Elite/Pro qualifications, only to end up with a massive, massive BMX Elite/Pro semi-finals. Twenty-four riders from all over the world, spread in six heats destroyed the park over and over again. And yes, that’s the time Catfish fired up the sentence I referred to at the beginning, but it would just be unfair not to mention jaw-dropping runs by the UK’s Jack Clark and Declan Brooks, Russia’s Irek Rizaev, and the USA’s Bryce Tryon. Unfortunately, we saw a heavy crash by Czech rider Martin Habada who under-rotated his front flip and had to be carried out from the park by the medical team, but luckily, he’s now OK. From twenty-four, the list fell down to only twelve riders for tomorrow’s finals.

If Saturday was crazy, Sunday was pure insanity. The first part of the day was reserved for the Amateur finals, with Slovenian wonderkid Jaka Remec coming on top of the pack, followed by Kevin Böck from Austria and Nicolas De La Costa from Argentina. This is the second Amateur title at Pannonian Challenge for the 14-year old Remec, and personally, I can’t wait to see him riding with the big guys in the future. Next to hit the park were girls, who once again showed how much has BMX progressed in recent years. With runs that were a joy to watch, it was Germany’s Lara Lessmann who took the win, shadowed by Analia Zacarias from Argentina in the second and Perris Benegas from the USA in third place.

However, I would also have to mention Angie Marino, Elizaveta Posadskikh, and Teresa Fernández-Miranda, who I instantly became a fan of. Fighting with the tropical heat, the girls showed why we should seriously count on every single one of them in the future. Up next, the crowd got to see a segment called “BMX legends,” pretty much a tribute to people who started and developed this event, but also two riders at the top of their game – Osijek’s own Igor Vukadinović Poki, now a FISE judge, as well as best flatland rider in this part of Europe, Leon Vignjević. The session also included legendary street rider Brad Simms, but also Catfish himself.

As the sun was slowly going down, the expectations went up, as we were approaching the main event of the day – BMX Elite/Pro finals for men. The semi-finals provided some jaw-dropping run, but it was nothing compared to what we saw in the finals. All the guys just kept firing banger after banger, keeping everyone on the edge of their seats. It’s been more than 24 hours, and I’m still hyped. I’m not sure if I was more mind-blown by Logan‘s 1080, Bryce‘s cash roll, Marin‘s park usage, Kostya‘s video-game-like combos, or Irek‘s smoothness.

In the “best out of two” format, all the riders gave their best, trying to top each other, sometimes even going too hard. We saw some less experienced riders getting out of their comfort zone, trying to keep up the best, and falling. We saw amazing riders such as Kostya and Justin not pulling runs they wanted, but still dropping some massive tricks along the way. And we saw guys executing their ideas perfectly. In the end, it was Logan Martin who showed the most, and took the win, closely followed by the last year’s winner Irek Rizaev, and local hero Marin Ranteš.

There is just one more thing left to say about this event, and that’s the concept of Extreme sports and music festival. Every single night, when riders called a day, it was time for some of the biggest names of the regional music scene. However, with so much going in the park, we only saw a smaller part of it. Maybe next year. Osijek, see you soon!

All photos courtesy of Samira Kurtagić and Marin Stupar.

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