BARCELONA, Spain -- Just when you think you've seen the most absolutely outlandish, extreme event there is at the X Games, along comes Moto X Step Up.
For those unfamiliar with the discipline, Step Up is like pole vault with motorbikes, except after pole-vaulters clear their bar, they at least fall into several feet of deep foam padding that adequately cushions the impact. Step Up competitors must race their bikes up a 16-foot-high, 77-degree takeoff hill, clear the bar many feet above that and then land safely (well, hopefully safely) after dropping all the way down to the ground.
And there is no padding. (Hey, it's the X Games!) And, depending on the venue, they plunge anywhere from 30 to 47 feet. While straddling a motorcycle.
Who came up with this event? Evel Knievel?
"It goes from being so high to just dropping out of the sky," Josh Hansen said after finishing second in Sunday's Step Up final. "Man, it was a hard landing. I'm kind of feeling it in my back right now a little bit. But it's commitment or nothing."
Hansen said you have to be careful to stay on your bike; otherwise, you're looking at broken legs. "It is a hard landing. It's gnarly, but these are the X Games and we're extreme athletes. This is what they expect from us, and this is the show we give them, so it worked out well."
Gold medalist Ronnie Renner said he does think about the downside. "It sucks," he said. "You have about one second to think about that. I'm just thinking about getting over that bar. I don't think about the landing. This is the one I put on the line for my career, but I don't think about it. I know I have to land on my wheels."
So you also better have good shock absorbers -- on your bike and in your body. After Renner cleared a record 47 feet at last summer's X Games Los Angeles, he said he landed so hard on his tailbone that he felt a moment of paralysis. Fortunately for his body, Sunday's bar was much lower. Renner won after clearing 32 feet in a first-ever jump-off against Hansen.
Renner said it was a very challenging course with unpredictable dirt -- "If you're not getting too much traction, you're getting too little" -- and the riders were constantly kicking and clawing at the dirt to get the best grip. They even used shovels.
Like I said, you see some outlandish things at the X Games. I mean, I have never seen athletes use shovels.
"I never have, either, but they told me I could," Hansen said. "I don't know if it did me any good, but I tried."
Sunday's victory gave Renner his fourth gold in Step Up, and he was delighted to earn it here in Barcelona. Spain, after all, has been very good to him. He met his wife on a flight to Spain. He proposed to her on a flight to Spain several years later. And, he says, "Maybe one of our kids was conceived -- nah, I'm just kidding."
Step Up was the next-to-last event in Barcelona -- riders soon were plunging down an 88-foot-high ramp and somersaulting through the air in the BMX Big Air finale -- but once again, competing in the X Games means there is always something even more daunting just around the corner.
For instance, Renner's family traveled with him to these X Games, which meant that after the Step Up competition he faced an even more intimidating challenge than surviving a 32-foot drop on a motorbike: "I'll be on diaper duty as soon as I get off the podium."