X Games Barcelona: What To Watch For
Telling you what to expect from an X Games event is like trying to predict the weather. But a few things are for sure: 17 gold medals will be given out to the highest-performing athletes, the events will be broadcast on televisions worldwide, and tricks that you never thought imaginable will become tangible. Besides that, though, you never know exactly what kind of action the X Games will bring. The truth is, from May 16 to 19 when the X Games comes to Barcelona, Spain -- the fourth stop on this year's global tour -- it's the element of surprise in a new culture that we can count on the most.
Thursday, May 16
12 p.m. - 3 p.m. ET: Men's Skateboard Vert Final
A new Skateboard Vert format debuted at X Games Foz do Iguaçu in April, which featured a timed stop-and-start lip trick session. Not all of the skaters approved of the new format. Bob Burnquist pulled out midcontest in Brazil because he said the format was confusing and slow. In Barcelona, we'll see that format return. X Games Foz gold medalist Bucky Lasek and six-time gold medalist Pierre-Luc Gagnon are the ones to watch. Also keep your eyes on veteran Sandro Dias and young gun Tom Schaar, who both landed 900s in Vert in Brazil. And will Burnquist enter the entire contest? That could be a deciding factor in the podium standings.
Friday, May 1712 p.m. - 3 p.m. ET: BMX Vert Final, Moto X Speed & Style Final
In BMX Vert, one name rules them all: Jamie Bestwick. In Barcelona, the 41-year-old from England is going for a record-setting eight-peat, having won the past seven X Games BMX Vert gold medals. Bestwick trains between three and six hours a day and it shows. In Brazil, he beat silver medalist Coco Zurita by a whopping nine points. If anyone stands a chance at dethroning Bestwick in Barcelona, it'll be Zurita; fellow Brit Simon Tabron, who's got solid tricks if he can stay on his bike; or rising star Steve McCann from Australia.
In Moto X Speed & Style, 23-year-old Lance Coury returns after his surprising win in his X Games debut in Brazil. A rejuvenated Andre Villa, who got silver in Brazil, now specializes in Speed & Style after retiring from Moto X Freestyle. Spaniards Edgar Torronteras and Jose Miralles will have the crowd support in Barcelona. "This event here will be insane," says Miralles, a Barcelona local. "There's a lot of pressure on me to do well."
8 p.m. - 11 p.m. ET: Skateboard Big Air Final
With three new X Games events in 2013, this season brings the most Skateboard Big Air contests to date. Will back-to-back contests take a toll on the skaters? Probably not according to the pros. X Games Foz do Iguaçu gold medalist Bob Burnquist, who will again be the favorite in Spain, and Jake Brown, who scored bronze in Brazil, recently said that having more big air contests is helping to keep them on point. Expect the level of progression to be high. Brown landed skateboarding's first 720 ollie on the MegaRamp in Brazil and teenagers Mitchie Brusco and Tom Schaar have a mind-blowing array of tricks.
Saturday, May 18
10 a.m. – 3 p.m. EST: Street League Skateboarding Final, Men's and Women's Enduro X Final, Moto X Freestyle Final
Street League Skateboarding has been incorporated into the X Games for several stops, including X Games Barcelona. In this contest, Nyjah Huston reigns supreme. Huston almost swept the Street League tour in 2011, he won the overall title in 2012, and he's earned more prize money than any other skateboarder in history. At 18, he's also the youngest skater in the field. In Barcelona, Sean Malto, Ryan Sheckler, Luan Oliveira, Paul Rodriguez and others will attempt to beat Huston. But it'll likely be a heated contest for second place.
The biggest challenge in Enduro X may not be a fellow competitor; but the course itself. A twisting dirt track with piles of logs, rocks, pipes and more presents a constant obstacle to the riders. Taddy Blazusiak, a Polish rider who lives in Spain and is a dominant force on the EnduroCross circuit, is going for his third X Games Enduro X gold medal and his second in a row. "The dirt was super slick," Blazusiak said about the course in Brazil. "It was unrideable, almost like racing on ice." In Women's Enduro X, Laia Sanz, a Barcelona native and the gold medalist from X Games Foz do Iguaçu, will double up with a back-to-back race in Portugal and the X Games race at home in Barcelona to defend her title. Her main competition will be two-time gold medalist Maria Forsberg, an electrician from Seattle.
Japan's Taka Higashino is going for a three-peat in Moto X Freestyle. But he'll have to step up his game. The talent in this field is deeper than it was in Brazil, with Nate Adams, Dany Torres, Javier Villegas, Maikel Melero and Tom Pages joining the competition. Torres has the home country support and many of the riders will be coming straight from the Red Bull X-Fighters Glen Helen race the week before the Barcelona event. Jackson "Jacko" Strong, who landed the first front flip in a Moto X Freestyle competition at X Games Foz do Iguaçu, is out with a broken ankle he suffered while competing in Brazil.
4 - 6 p.m. ET: Women's Skateboard Park Final, BMX Park Final
Barcelona marks the debut of Women's Skateboard Park at the X Games. You'll see one familiar face from the Women's Skateboard Street field and that's Foz do Iguaçu Street gold medalist Leticia Bufoni, who will return for Park. But the gold-medal favorites likely are park specialists Lizzie Armanto, Nora Vasconcellos and X Games Real Women competitor Mimi Knoop.
X Games rookie Kyle Baldock surprised even himself when he earned two gold medals (one in BMX Park, one in BMX Dirt) in Foz do Iguaçu. The young Aussie returns to Barcelona to defend his gold in BMX Park. (BMX Dirt, which recently returned to the X Games after a seven-year hiatus, isn't taking place in Spain.) Dennis Enarson, the bronze medalist from Brazil, is out of the competition with a broken wrist, and his replacement, Chase Hawk, is sure to be one to watch, as are perpetual contender Pat Casey and regional selection Sergio Layos.
Sunday, May 19
10 a.m. - 5 p.m. ET: BMX Street Final, Men's Skateboard Park Final, Ford RallyCross Final, Moto X Best Whip, Moto X Step Up Final, GoPro BMX Big Air Final
There was no BMX Street contest in Brazil, but it'll return in Barcelona. Garrett Reynolds will be the man of the hour. Since the introduction of BMX Street in 2008, no other rider has been able to beat Reynolds in an X Games competition. He won his last X Games gold in Los Angeles in 2012. Reynolds will get some serious competition from the likes of Chad Kerley, a rider who has what it takes to unseat Reynolds.
In Men's Skateboard Park, Brazilian Pedro Barros, the 18-year-old champion from X Games Foz do Iguaçu and the youngest competitor in the field, is again the one to beat in Barcelona. In Brazil, Barros beat second-place finisher Rune Glifberg -- a Dane and one of just four athletes to compete in all 19 summer X Games -- by seven points. In Barcelona, Barros will have his hands full with one of the deepest and most talented fields in the entire event.
In Brazil, some of the big names in RallyCross -- Travis Pastrana, Tanner Foust and Ken Block -- were eliminated in a crash early in the race. Former Formula One driver Scott Speed, who'd never before jumped his car or raced on dirt, took home the gold. In Barcelona, this question remains: Is Speed, as his name suggests, really a natural for RallyCross or did he just get lucky in Brazil? He'll go head-to-head against Pastrana, Foust and Block as well as Subaru drivers Bucky Lasek (yes, the skateboarder), Sverre Isachsen and Dave Mirra, who are back after skipping X Games Foz do Iguaçu. Spaniard Nani Roma, a late addition to the athlete roster, is the hometown favorite.
Can anybody beat Jeremy "Twitch" Stenberg in Moto X Best Whip? The California native and his more than 83,000 Twitter followers will be hard to beat in the fan-voted Best Whip contest. Twitch is going for a Best Whip four-peat in Barcelona. His secret to success? "I love my fans and I make sure to stay up on my social media," Twitch said. If Spaniards get busy voting in the fan poll, maybe Spaniard Edgar Torronteras will stand a chance at gold.
Moto X Step Up will be a battle for the ages. Longtime rivals Matt Buyten and Ronnie Renner duel again in a rematch of their epic, record-setting 2012 battle at X Games Los Angeles. Renner won that time, setting the new Step Up record at 47 feet and blasting Buyten's previous record by a whopping 10 feet. In Brazil, Buyten didn't compete and Renner settled for silver to X Games rookie Bryce Hudson, who took gold. Hudson won't be competing in Barcelona due to a broken leg suffered in practice a day after winning his Step Up gold. In Barcelona, be on the lookout for a new rivalry forming: Josh Hansen will be there again to make things lively after getting under Renner's skin in Brazil.
The finale to X Games Barcelona is a fitting one. The GoPro BMX Big Air Final field is stacked and it's anyone's game. American Zack Warden will attempt to defend his first career X Games win from Foz do Iguaçu. He'll try a brand-new trick over the MegaRamp gap -- a backflip bike flip to late tailwhip. Three-time Big Air gold medalist Kevin Robinson is sitting out the competition in Barcelona after suffering a concussion in Brazil. That leaves the gold-medal spot wide open to contenders like two-time gold medalist Steve McCann, former gold medalist Chad Kagy and a promising slew of others, including Morgan Wade, Vince Byron and Colton Satterfield.
X Games Barcelona begins Thursday on ESPN/ESPN3. The tune-in schedule can be found here.