In spite of an influx of young athletes (including 12-year-olds doing 900s on skateboards on the super ramp) at this year’s Games, tenacity and sheer will may have been measured in year’s this go around, as the veterans made their mark in 2012.
Dirt bike competitions have long been a staple of the X Games, and this year was no exception. Three different competitions were held inside Staples Center on Friday night, which was kicked off with Best Whip, the competition awarding gold to the rider the fans vote whips their bike the hardest. Although a number of great, breath-taking whips were tossed (including some impressive riding by Spaniard Edgar Torronteras), it was crowd favorite Jeremy “Twitch” Stenberg who earned the fan’s vote to defend his gold medal from 2011 in the event. Stenberg has competed in the X Games since 1998, so even at just 30 years of age, he is classified a veteran of sorts.
"I'm not going to lie, it feels pretty awesome. I'm pumped to come back and get my second gold medal and win this,” Stenberg said. “It's something I've been wanting to do for a long time.”
Next up was Step Up, which is essentially a hard-core game of high jump performed on dirt bikes. The competitors shattered last year’s record of 37 feet, with veteran Brian Deegan being the first to clear the 38-foot mark. But as the competitors entered the 40-foot realm, the field shrunk to only two riders – last year’s winner Matt Buyten and 35-year-old X Games vet Ronnie Renner. The two riders went back and forth, clearing 42 feet and matching each other’s attempt as the competition moved up one foot each round until 46 feet.
Each jump was taking its toll, however, as the massive drop-off after clearing the bar was clearly showing its effect on both Renner and Buyten. Ankles, wrists, backs and knees were taking a beating, as each rider’s bikes were flexing and suspension was completely compressed on each landing. It was a battle of sheer will, with each competitor not willing to concede.
Once the bar was raised to 47 feet – a full 10 feet higher than last year’s record – Renner cleared the bar on his first try. Buyten had two chances to clear it to keep the competition going, but unfortunately he caught the bar each attempt on his way up and had to settle for second this year.
"Without these opportunities we won't have these moments," Renner said. "It if wasn't for X Games, the platform of our sport wouldn't be where it's at today. God I love Step Up because there are no judges."
The final event of the evening was Best Trick, where young upstart Jackson Strong looked to defend his gold medal victory from 2011. There were a number of wild tricks during the evening, such as Kyle Loza’s attempt to flip the bike by itself and then land back on it, though he was unable to land it on the first try and was too injured to try it again.
Although the previous night’s Moto X Freestyle winner Tako Higashino put together some great tricks, and Cameron Sinclair overcame the trick that nearly took his life a few years back by nailing a double backflip, Strong defended his gold medal from last year with a body varial seat grab he referred to as the “Jacko.”
“This trick was only the second time I’ve ever landed it,” Jackson said. “But I’m stoked to have back-to-back X Games gold.”
Higashino finished in second to earn silver, while Sinclair earned his third medal in the competition.
“I’m so stoked to get a bronze medal and now I have all three – gold, silver and bronze – from 2010, 2011 and now 2012,” said Sinclair. “I’m stoked to have all three colors.”
This year’s X Games was wrapped up with the Endurocross race, which is unique in that it is an X Games competition that also is an ongoing series as well (with points from this race counting toward the series). Endurocross brought racers from all over the globe, as the race challenges even the most accomplished rider with obstacles that include rocks, logs, tire jumps and even a water crossing on the Staples Center course.
Only the top two racers from the three 10-person heats would go on to the final, with the rest going to two last-chance qualifiers and the top two racers in each heat filling the final spots for the 10-racer final.
When the final began, last year’s silver medal winner Mike Brown jumped out to an early lead and never looked back. The 40-year-old racer rode smooth and confidently on the course even after crashing once in his earlier qualifying heat.
"To come back from to the silver to the gold is great. That was my goal this year," Brown said of avenging his loss last year. "All day long I was riding good and I had good times, and I knew if I got a good start it would help me win the gold."
Finishing in second place was Cody Webb, who rebounded from his eighth-place finish last year to earn the silver medal.
"I'm pumped with getting a good start because without it, I wouldn't be here. I feel I rode pretty flawlessly, and I'm more than happy with my end results," Webb said.
Third place went to British Columbia's Cory Graffunder, who was injured last year just prior to the event and was unable to compete.
"Last year I was scheduled to race, and I broke my wrist right before and it was the biggest disappointment of my life," Graffunder said. “And to follow it up with the bronze the next year is the biggest achievement of my life.”
Another X Games is in the books, and the dirt bike events definitely thrilled the fans from start to finish. If anything was learned this year, it’s to never measure guts or ability by the age of the rider.