The Big Balloon Blow-Up (Japanese: ポケモンききゅうだいレース！あらしをこえて！！The Big Pokémon Balloon Race! Exceed the Storm!!) is the 202nd episode of the Pokémon anime. It was first broadcast in Japan on June 14, 2001 and in the United States on May 25, 2002.
When our heroes happen upon an unusual formation in the middle of a grassy field, Brock believes it is a crop circle... placed there by aliens! Just then, something comes hurtling out of the sky towards them. A far away voice calls down an apology for almost hitting Ash with the object. Skyler, a boy training for a hot air balloon race, introduces himself to the gang and explains he was practicing for the upcoming event. Getting a marker as close to the center of the large, circular target by throwing it from the hot air balloon is one aspect of the competition. Intrigued by the hot-air balloon racing circuit, Ash quickly makes up his mind to enter as well. When Brock reminds him they don't have a chance of winning without a hot air balloon, Skyler's father says he has something to help them out. Pulling a balloon out of his shop, he begins to fill it up and to our heroes surprise, it's a Pikachu shaped hot air balloon! When Team Rocket decides to enter the race as well, Jessie and James sabotage several of the balloons the night before the big event. With only Team Rocket, Ash and Skyler in the running, who will end up winning the grand prize?
As Ash and his friends walk across an open field, they notice a pattern in the grass that looks like a circle with an X in the middle of it. All of a sudden a ball with a leaf-like tail drops nearby. They look up, wondering what's going on, and Ash spots a balloon in the distance, shaped like a Fearow and pulled by a Fearow. The balloon lands next to them, allowing a boy to jump out of it. He introduces himself as Skyler and explains that he is training for the upcoming Pokémon Balloon Race competition.
Skyler takes the group over to an air hangar, where his father, Tenma is busily sketching some balloon designs for the upcoming race. The group look at some of Tenma's Pokémon-based designs and are immediately impressed. Skyler suggests that Ash and his friends should enter. Ash accepts the challenge, but then realizes that he doesn't have an air balloon. Tenma sets up a Pikachu balloon for the gang to ride in and train for the race themselves. They take off and do a few check-ups, before letting out a Flying-type Pokémon to drag the balloon faster. Ash sends out his Noctowl while Skyler uses his Fearow. Noctowl helps to make the balloon go faster, but it goes too fast and causes the balloon to tilt. Tenma tells them over the walkie-talkie to slow down a bit, which allows Ash's group to regain control.
Nearby, Team Rocket watches the twerps. Jessie and James don't really care about what's happening, but Meowth comes by with the race pamphlet, revealing that the winner of the race gets an advanced burner for their balloon. Jessie and James aren't too thrilled, but Meowth seems eager to enter the race. Late at night before the race, Jessie and James sneak into the balloon start area, apparently intent on tipping the odds in their favor.
The next day, dozens of contestants are ready to race. Team Rocket makes a last-minute entry, using their signature Meowth balloon. Ash spots the evil trio and isn't too pleased, but Meowth admits that he is dedicated to hot air ballooning and wishes to prove himself. As the race starts, most of the balloons malfunction immediately; only a few balloons, including Ash's and Skyler's, are left floating. Meowth realizes that Jessie and James sabotaged the competition and he angrily berates them for cheating. James sends out Weezing to choke up the competition with Smog, and consequently three more competitors fall out of the sky. Meowth yells at James again, but Jessie shrugs and uses Arbok to shoot out some Pins. Ash and Skyler dodge the barrage, but the other racer ends up falling. Meowth, fed up with his team's dirty tricks, slashes Jessie and James’s faces, only to be tied up for his troubles.
A storm is building ahead, but James activates a jet engine to send his team's balloon soaring through. As Ash and Skyler try to get through the storm, Ash's balloon's burner shorts out. Following Tenma's advice, Ash sends out Cyndaquil to replace the burner, but they are headed straight into a mesa. Ash tells Noctowl to pull up as best as it can while Cyndaquil uses a powerful Flamethrower to heat up the balloon. Tense seconds later, the balloon pulls up in time and heads above the clouds.
Meanwhile, Team Rocket has a significant lead, but their celebration is cut short when they see Ash and Skyler break through the storm. James transforms the engine into a missile launcher and fires a few volleys towards Ash's balloon. The balloon doesn't get hit, but Cyndaquil gets knocked back. Ash saves his Pokémon from falling off the balloon, but another missile explodes nearby and injures his shoulder. As Ash falls, Cyndaquil hops back up to the burner and Pikachu is mad and wants to fight; however James uses the jet engine to flee. Ash tells Noctowl to help Pikachu get to Team Rocket, so Noctowl lets go of the rope and gives Pikachu a ride towards Team Rocket's balloon. James uses the missiles again to fend off Noctowl, prompting Skyler to send Fearow to distract Team Rocket. Fearow dodges the missile attack and uses Drill Peck to destroy the rocket launcher, and Team Rocket’s propulsion engine. Now floating at a gentle pace, Pikachu manages to fire a Thunderbolt at Team Rocket, destroying the balloon and sending them flying into the distance.
With the cheating villains gone, Ash and Skyler get to the target area and toss their marker balls at the target. The event announcer declares that both teams scored a bullseye, making them both winners of the race; however, there's only one balloon burner as a prize. Ash offers Skyler the prize, as he and his friends don't usually travel by balloon anyways. Skyler and his father are grateful and after exchanging goodbyes, the trio departs for their next destination.