Dave Mirra: First XG athlete to win triple gold
Twenty Years, 20 Firsts celebrates the 20-year legacy of the X Games in action sports with a collection of 20 of the most iconic first-trick moments in X Games history. Between March and X Games Austin (June 5-8), XGames.com will roll out the top 20 firsts, including moments such as Travis Pastrana's groundbreaking double backflip and Shaun White's perfect SuperPipe score, and the stories behind them. Fans will be able to vote for their favorite moment beginning in May.
Dave Mirra collected 23 X Games medals -- 14 of them gold -- in his long career as a BMX rider, but he says three of them stand out above the rest.
"X Games in 1998 was huge for me and for BMX," he says. "When I think back on that whole era, that was not quite the start of the wave, but for me it was the highest point."
He still remembers the blue Haro bike he brought to San Diego that year, and recalls that it was right around the time people started calling him "Miracle Man." It was the year his dad finally admitted there might be some future in messing around on BMX bikes after all. And, after becoming the first athlete in X Games history to win three gold medals at a single event, it was the year he took his prize money and went out and bought his first house.
"I don't think anybody around me ever thought it would go to that level," he said. "When it went to that level, nobody could believe it, including myself."
Mirra was a favorite in both the BMX Park and BMX Vert events in 1998 after winning both the previous year. He also won BMX Park in 1996, and took silver in BMX Vert in 1996 and at the X Games' debut in 1995.
"Back then, when the whole concept of televised BMX contests was pretty new, I used to think, 'If I was sitting in my living room watching this, how would I want to see it?' I knew it had to be all about flow, speed, and consistency," he says. "So that's how I tried to ride."
In the BMX Park contest, Mirra's strategy put him on top of the podium, ahead of his good friend and closest rival, Ryan Nyquist, and childhood hero Dennis McCoy. He posted the two highest scores of the day, with a 91.6 in his first run and a 91.8 in his second. When he bought that house a few months later, he rented a room out to Nyquist and made him mop the bathroom every week.
Mirra was just as consistent in the BMX Vert event that year, scoring 91.0 in his first run. When rival Jay Miron answered with a 91.8 in Run 2, Mirra responded with a 92.0. Done and done. Miron settled for silver, and McCoy won bronze. Jamie Bestwick, currently enjoying an unprecedented streak with eight consecutive X Games BMX Vert wins, took fourth that year.
"We all grew up riding everything, from flatland to quarterpipes to whatever vert ramps we could find and some of the first skateparks that were popping up and allowing bikes in, so it really wasn't a big deal to be entering both contests," Mirra says. "Nowadays it's gotten a lot more specialized, and the riders are so good in each discipline that I'd be surprised if we ever see another rider who can win both, much less dominate both."
Back then, there was another event Mirra knew he could win, and he says his fondest memory from 1998, and maybe from his entire X Games career, was his BMX Vert Doubles run with McCoy.
"I grew up seeing him in the magazines, and by that time we'd gotten to be good friends and -- thanks to X Games -- we were both starting to become household names, which was surreal, to say the least," Mirra says. In their first run, the duo missed the mark, scoring just 76.2: dead last, and in Mirra's mind, totally unacceptable.
"For our second run I had this crazy idea, and he totally didn't trust me on it. But by then I had the notion of three gold medals in my mind and had to go for it. Dennis was wearing this chest plate protector, and I got in my head that we could win the contest if I did a tail-tap on the back of it," Mirra says. "He kept saying, 'no way,' like it was crazy, but I finally convinced him. In the video you can see he gives in a little bit when I tap him, and I almost died. But somehow I rode it out, and that's what clinched it, I promise."
Those three gold medals helped Mirra hold the record for the most X Games athletes with 24 -- including a bronze in Rallycross -- until last year, when skateboarder Bob Burnquist unseated him. He retired from BMX competition in 2011 but continues to compete in Rallycross. Mirra has never missed a year in the 20-year history of X Games, but says the most time he spends on a bike these days is to train for his newest passion, triathlon.
"When I was competing in BMX, it consumed my life. Every day of my life was riding and I was never satisfied, so retiring finally gave me some relief," he says. "But it's kind of cool to look back and say, 'Wow, that's nuts,' thinking of all the things I did. I'd grown up riding my bike every chance I got, long before X Games, and there I was living it with a stack of medals to show for it."