X Games Foz: What to watch for

Shamanski

Bob Burnquist is the face of skateboarding in Brazil, reigning gold medalist in Big Air and a podium contender in Vert.

The worldwide X Games tour makes its third stop in exotic Foz Do Iguaçu, Brazil, for the first summer event of the year. Athletes from around the world will compete in moto events, rallycross, skateboarding and BMX near the famous Iguaçu Falls. In fact, the vert ramp, which will host BMX and Skateboarding Vert competitions, will sit yards away from the internationally known natural wonder. Here's what you should watch for this week.

Thursday:

11 a.m.-2 p.m. ET: SLS Select Series

Street League Skateboarding

With the inclusion of Street League in this year's X Games, the bar in skateboarding has risen to an all-time high. The first stop is in Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil, where a field of 10 hand-picked pros, along with five local pros, will fight for gold. Standing in their way is Nyjah Huston -- can he be beat?

X Games Foz Do Iguaçu opens on Thursday with the Street League Skateboarding Select Series, where 10 prequalified skaters and five Brazilians will vie for two spots to join the 20 pros already confirmed for the 2013 SLS World Tour before Friday's prelims. This is the first year of a new partnership between X Games and Street League Skateboarding, bringing the SLS World Tour format to X Games and adding the new X Games events in Foz Do Iguaçu, Barcelona, Munich and Los Angeles to the expanded seven-stop tour. Pay attention to the Select Series because podium positions could just as easily go to some kid you've never heard of. Skateboarding is like that.

7-10 p.m.: Men's & Women's Enduro X Final, Skateboard Big Air Final

Maria Forsberg is going for a three-peat after dominating the first two years of Enduro X competition at X Games (and winning just about everything in women's enduro in 2012), but Tarah Gieger's been chasing her down and this year's field will include Jolene Van Vugt, an all-around rider and Nitro Circus star who is a newcomer to enduro but has racing pedigree and freestyle chops; Van Vugt just might throw a backflip victory celebration if the opportunity presents itself. The locals' favorite will be Mariana Balbi, from Belo Horizonte, Brazil, but the real wild card will be Laia Sanz, a 13-time trials world champion and FIM Women's Enduro World Championship competitor. In the men's field, watch for defending X Games gold medalist Mike Brown, reigning EnduroCross tour champion and 2011 X Games gold medalist Taddy Blazusiak, and Brazilian rider Antonio Balbi to bring both muscle and finesse to the most athletically grueling event at X Games.

Bob Burnquist, the patron saint of Brazilian skateboarding and a steadfast promoter of MegaRamp skateboarding, will be looking to add to a collection of X Games hardware that already includes a total of nine gold medals. But he'll have to fend off young challengers like Tom Schaar and Mitchie Brusco to win in front of Burnquist's home crowd. Even his status as the local favorite is on the line with Brazilian skaters Edgard Pereira and Rony Gomez in the mix. Remember when 900s were a big deal last year? Watch for Schaar and others to attempt 1080s or maybe even 1260s this time around. Try not to get dizzy just thinking about it.

Courtesy of MegaRamp

BMX Big Air returns to X Games Foz do Iguaçu on April 18 in Brazil.

Friday: 

7-10 p.m.: Moto X Step Up Final, GoPro BMX Big Air Final

Ronnie Renner smashed the Moto X Step Up record by an astounding 10 feet at X Games Los Angeles 2012, pushing the mark from 37 feet to 47. With previous record holder Mat Buyten out of the mix in Brazil, Renner's closest competitor will likely be Italian rider Massimo Bianconcini, who has been dominating the event in FIM Freestyle MX World Championship competition on the Night of the Jumps World Tour. Moto X Step Up is reverse motocross limbo: how high can they go?

Australian rider Steve McCann's going for his third consecutive gold medal entry in the history book of BMX Big Air, but the stacked field also includes X Games gold medalists Chad Kagy and Kevin Robinson, as well as a who's who of BMX big hitters like Morgan Wade, Zack Warden, Vince Byron, Colton Satterfield and Douglas Leite.

Saturday:

11 a.m.-5 p.m.: BMX Park Final, Skateboard Vert Final, Men's Street League Skateboarding Final, BMX Vert Final

Four-time BMX Park gold medalist Daniel Dhers failed to medal in 2012 and will be looking for redemption in Brazil, where the Venezuelan rider hopes to put on a show for his South American fans. Look for defending gold medalist Scotty Cranmer to give him a run for it, and watch for veteran riders like Ryan Nyquist, Morgan Wade and Dennis Enarson (back from a femur injury that left him out of competition for most of 2012) to bring the challenge. Also in the mix this year are Australian rider Kyle Baldock, Canadian rider Drew Bezanson and Americans Pat Casey, Daniel Sandoval and Gary Young.

Brazilian skaters could sweep the Skateboard Vert Final on home turf if Sandro Dias, Bob Burnquist and Marcelo Bastos have anything to say about it, but six-time gold medalist Pierre-Luc Gagnon is the man to beat and longtime veterans like Bucky Lasek and Andy Macdonald (last year's silver and bronze medalists) are always podium favorites. Ready to see the next generation rise up and take them down? Root for teen sensation Tom Schaar, who now throws 900s like they're no big deal and has been brushing up on his style and bulking up his bag of tricks to match.

Christian Van Hanja / ESPN Images

Jamie Bestwick will go for a record-setting seventh consecutive X Games gold medal at X Games Foz for his streak in BMX Vert.

Nyjah Huston dominated Street League Skateboarding in 2012 and has four X Games medals -- including X Games Los Angeles 2011 gold -- to show for himself, but was unseated by Paul "P-Rod" Rodriguez and bumped down to bronze medal position by Ryan Sheckler in 2012. That trio would be podium favorites in any street skateboarding showdown, but don't sleep on Luan Oliveira: The 2011 silver medalist from Porto Alegre, Brazil, will have the teeming masses behind him in Foz do Iguaçu, has won in the Street League format before and came out on top last month at the Tampa Pro. Another favorite could be Columbian skater David Gonzalez, Thrasher Magazine's 2012 Skater of the Year. Also watch out for whoever wins the wild card from Thursday's SLS Select series, the biggest chance unknown underdogs have ever had to fight their way into the big show at X Games: Brazil has more unknown underdog skaters per capita than anywhere else on Earth.

One name will be on everybody's mind as the BMX Vert Finals get underway: After winning his sixth consecutive gold medal at X Games Los Angeles in 2012, Jamie Bestwick is the undisputed champion. Simon Tabron, another British rider, is likely his closest competitor, and Chilean rider Coco Zurita ought to have the South American fans most riled up. Also in the mix are Chad Kagy (who last won vert gold in 2006), BMX legend Dennis McCoy (46 and now entering the 28th year of his pro career), Australians Vince Byron and Steve McCann and Americans Austin Coleman, Mykel Larrin and Zack Warden.

7-9 p.m.: Moto X Speed & Style Final, BMX Dirt Final

Americans Lance Coury and Ronnie Renner are likely favorites in Speed & Style, but they'll be up against FIM Freestyle World Championship competitors Massimo Bianconcini (Italy) and Libor Podmbol (Czech Republic), as well as a diverse international field that includes Mat Rebeaud (Switzerland), Edgar Torronteras (Spain) and Andre Villa (Norway). This one ought to be the week's best opportunity to fully appreciate the roar of a Brazilian action sports crowd, speed and style being two of Brazil's national pastimes.

BMX Dirt returns to X Games after a seven-year absence, but the biggest name in the game remains the same: Ryan Nyquist will still be the man to beat. Other riders to watch include Americans Brandon Dosch, TJ Ellis, Dennis Enarson and Mike "Hucker" Clark, New Zealand's Luke Parslow, Australian Kyle Baldock and British rider Ben Wallace. But the real star of the show just might be the gnarly course for the competition, designed by BMX trails specialist Dave King.

Michael Whelan

Travis Pastrana hopes this is a view other rallycross drivers will be accustomed to at X Games Foz and as many GRC races as he is able to compete in.

April 21:

11 a.m.-5 p.m.: Women's Skateboard Street Final, Ford RallyCross Final, Men's Skateboard Park Final, Moto X Freestyle Final

Nobody wants to win in Brazil more than Leticia Bufoni, the 20 year-old from São Paulo who has made the podium in her past three X Games attempts -- two silvers and a bronze -- but has never been on top, despite dominating the World Cup skateboarding circuit since 2010. To get there she'll need to topple defending gold medalist Alexis Sablone and fend off three-time gold medalist Marisa Dal Santo, as well as 2012 bronze medalist Rachel Reinhard, fellow Brazilians Jessica Florencio and Eliana Sosco, Argentinian skater Eugenio Ginepro and Belgian skater Evelien Bouilliart, among others.

Travis Pastrana's sitting out the Moto X events to avoid risking injury for his new NASCAR career, but he'll still be getting dirty at X Games Foz do Iguaçu and looking to get back on top in RallyCross. With X Games Los Angeles 2012 gold medalist Sebastien Loeb out of the mix, Pastrana' biggest competition will be X Games podium regulars Brian Deegan, Tanner Foust and Ken Block, and international rallycross stalwarts like Liam Doran, Toomas Heikkinen, Anton Marklun and Steve Arpin. A trio of Brazilian drivers -- Nelson Piquet Jr., Eduardo Marques Jr. and Mauricio Neves -- will give them all a run for it.

Garth Milan/ESPN Images

Taka Higashino is among the favorites in Moto X Freestyle at X Games Foz.

Defending Skateboard Park gold medalist Pedro Barros of Florianaoplis, Brazil, might be the local with the best chance to win big in Foz do Iguaçu, with American skater Ben Hatchell and Danish skater Rune Glifberg (a two-time gold medalist) as his biggest competition: The trio all made the podium in 2012. The rest of the field are all Americans, with Taylor Bingaman, Aaron Homoki, Kevin Kowalski, Ben Raybourn, Grant Taylor, Raven Tershy and Macdonald in the mix.

Taka Higashino will be in Brazil to defend his X Games Los Angeles 2012 Moto X Freestyle gold, with 2012 Moto X Best Trick gold medalist Jackson Strong also in the mix. They'll be the favorites, but watch out for X Games rookies Wes Agee and Bryce Hudson and a deep international field including Australian rider Rob Adelberg, Czech rider Libor Podmol, Swiss rider Mat Rebeaud and Norwegian rider Andre Villa. Now that X Games has dropped Best Trick competition, look for the top riders to bring the innovation and progression game straight into their Freestyle runs.

X Games Foz begins Thursday on ESPN/ESPN3. Tune-in schedule is here.

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