In 2008, when Speed & Style was added to the X Games roster, the idea behind the discipline was to pit the world's fastest racers against the world's top freestylers, creating the ultimate showdown of speed versus style. And in 2008, when racer Kevin Johnson won the event, that's exactly what happened; there was a healthy representation of racers and freestylers on that initial roster. Speed trumped style back then.
But as the discipline has evolved, it turns out that racers don't like to flip as much as freestylers like to race. As a couple of racers can attest to, getting upside down doesn't always feel so good when you don't land rightside up -- ouch.
These days, Speed & Style is a platform for the fastest freestylers, such as Travis Pastrana (gold 2010), Nate Adams (gold 2011) and Mike Mason (gold 2012) to prove they've got more than just some ramp skills.
As Adams said before he earned gold in 2011, "Freestyle is the event that I excel at and the event where I feel like I should be on top, but Speed & Style is what I want to excel at and what I have to earn." With its head-to-head format and tight courses, an event that once flew under the radar has emerged as one of the most exciting at X. As competitors prepare to compete in the fifth X Games Speed & Style event in Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil, we take a look at some favored freestylers, their racing chops and what it takes to net gold on the track.
Format: Riders go head-to-head in a bracketed format until only two riders remain. A rider's "style" score comes after he hits a 75-foot comp ramp three times. Then, whoever is the fastest racer gets to add the margin he won by to his final score.
Course: In the past couple of years, Speed & Style has been held inside the Staples Center in a tight arenacross-type setting. In Foz, the course is outside and more open. Riders will still hit a 75-foot comp ramp, where they will throw their scored tricks, in addition to a 60-foot Supercross jump (not scored), a rhythm section, a sand pit and whoops.
Speed matters: In three out of four Speed & Style events at XG, the rider who was fastest on the track ultimately won the event: Johnson (2008), Pastrana (2010) and Mason (2012). (There was no event in 2009.)
"We are all doing the same thing out there, so one mistake in the race, even if it's a minor one, could cost you seconds," says 2012 X Games L.A. winner Mason, who will miss Foz but returns to the roster in Barcelona. "As we've seen, the difference between medals and no medals is basically seconds lost on the track."
Judge's perspective: While being speedy is important, riders can't forget how important it is to please the judges.
"From a judging perspective, we are looking for a variety of tricks over the three judged jumps," says head judge John Basher. "Duplicating a trick isn't quite like a death knell, such as a dead sailor [not trying a trick on a jump] or missing the jump altogether, but it is strongly penalized. As a judge, I like to see a combination of flip tricks and technical upright tricks."
Roster: Eight riders get to take a stab at Speed & Style glory: Massimo Bianconcini (Italy), Lance Coury (United States), Libor Podmol (Czech Republic), Mat Rebeaud (Switzerland), Ronnie Renner (United States), Edgar Torronteras (Spain), Andre Villa (Norway) and Bryce Hudson (United States).
Keep An Eye On …
Edgar Torronteras: "He's like the Pastrana of Spain," says team manager Oscar Lanza about Spanish legend Torronteras. In the 1990s, Torronteras was Spain's top Supercross and motocross rider, winning national titles in 80cc and 250cc. Then Torronteras caught the freestyle bug. He was the first to start tricking features on the Supercross course, and from there, his freestyle legacy grew. Speed & Style is the perfect venue for the Spaniard to show off his skills.
At XG 2012, ET posted the fastest race time of the day during his quarterfinal with Carey Hart. But Torronteras crashed hard during his semifinal with Nate Adams and missed the podium in fourth. With Adams and Mason sitting out of X Games until Barcelona, Torronteras, 32, is the favorite for gold in Brazil. "I'd put my money on Edgar," Mason says. "He rips around the track and has some good tricks to mix in."
Mat Rebeaud: The Swiss rider raced at the FIM Motocross World Championship level before switching to FMX, and he still likes to get on the Supercross track whenever he can for events such as the famed Geneva Supercross. It's been two years since we've seen Rebeaud, 30, at X Games; he has been recovering from complications after breaking his left leg. In Foz, expect to see Rebeaud excel on the track and on the ramp, where he's no stranger to the podium. In 2008, Rebeaud won the overall Red Bull X-Fighters series and made the podium at two stops in 2009 (third in Calgary, second in Texas), proving, when healthy, he is one of the best freestyle riders in the world.
Libor Podmol: Competing in three events at his first X Games (Freestyle, Speed & Style and Step Up), Podmol, 28, is a popular Czech rider who started off by making a name for himself on the Night of the Jumps series, winning it in 2010 and finishing second in 2012. A racer early on, the small (5-foot-6, 136 pounds) but explosive rider comes from good racing genes. His father, who has passed away, was a pro endurocross racer when he was younger.
Andre Villa: The Norwegian splits his time between Spain and California and is loved for his big extensions and style on the freestyle course. The combo propelled him to second overall on the 2010 Red Bull X-Fighters series and third in 2011. What most people don't know is that Villa is no slouch on the track either. He raced motocross for 15 years and was the 1997 Norwegian champ for 80cc. To train for Speed & Style, Villa built a Supercross track at his compound in Torrevieja, Spain. He has also been logging hours on the track at Ronnie Faisst's house in Southern California.
Lance Coury: Young gun Coury, 23, used to bump elbows with his best friend and Supercross talent Cole Seely early on. The track was too confining for Coury, though, so he took his bike skills elsewhere. Making a name for himself in the freestyle world through photos and videos, Coury has relatively little actual freestyle competition experience. But don't count him out. He's hungry to compete at X Games and has done all the prep work necessary. He has logged hours upon hours on the track leading up to Foz. And besides, who doesn't like a good dark horse?