Former medalists vie for Step Up supremacy
Step Up is one of the most physically demanding and rarely practiced disciplines at the X Games, yet is one of the most popular.
Though Friday's event will feature four former gold medalists, the six competitors in the field rarely practice due to the harsh conditions they go through when landing from heights of nearly 50 feet.
Ronnie Renner, the most successful rider in Step Up history with 10 medals in the event (five gold), is the favorite to win, though he and fellow rider Matt Buyten (seven medals, four gold) rarely -- if ever -- practice.
Step Up is one of the biggest moto events of the year, and X Games is the only place you'll see it.
In 2012 at X Games Los Angeles, the duo went blow-for-blow, breaking the Step Up record with each jump. When Renner cleared 47 feet, he blew away the previous XG record by 10 feet. He also cracked his wrist, bent the forks on his motorcycle and crushed Buyten to win a third career gold medal. That event was inside Staples Center in a protected environment, while this year it will be outside in the elements, possibly limiting how high they can go.
"I never thought I couldn't go any higher, but I wasn't sure my body would be able to. But nobody comes to X Games hoping to break records," Renner said after setting his still-standing mark. "They come for the competition."
Equipment also plays a key role: The biggest assets for Step Up success include a good bike setup and an ability to put it all on the line -- this discipline is not for the tentative.
So, who will be vying for gold along with Renner and Buyten at Step Up in Austin? Well, a quartet that features two more gold medalists and two riders ready to take the next step.
Libor Podmol and Bryce Hudson have each won Step Up before, and Renner rival Josh Hansen has won a silver, which leaves Italy's Massimo Bianconcini as the only rider in the field without a medal.
Renner counts no one out, no matter if they've competed at X Games or not.
"It's a fact that Buyten has been my main rival for years now, but I can go back to the days of Ricky Carmichael, Jeremy McGrath and Tommy Clowers and guys who want it as bad as I do," Renner said in advance of X Games Foz do Iguaçu last year. "You can't take anyone for granted. Hansen is a talented dude. He will figure it out. He's one of the most skilled bike riders out there, and I've got to put in the work."
Step Up isn't about the elements. It's about grit and determination, and you never know when that record could fall.