BARCELONA, Spain -- The spirit of action sports is as elusive as it is abstract. You can't really define it. But you know it when you see it.
A handful of onlookers witnessed it Saturday afternoon in a concrete bowl at Barcelona's Montjuïc plaza.
A few minutes before that spirit appeared, a dream came true for Alana Smith on the same hill where dreams came true for Olympic athletes in 1992. Smith, age 12 years, 6 months, became the youngest X Games medalist ever when she claimed silver in Skateboard Park. It was the first women's park contest in the X Games' 19-year history, and moments after the final concluded, Smith's grin lit up television screens around the world.
Truth is, Smith came this close to upsetting 20-year-old favorite Lizzie Armanto for gold. Time and again during the final, with the crowd roaring in anticipation, Smith zipped into the deep end of the course and launched off the 9-foot wall into a McTwist -- an inverted 540-degree spin that is arguably the toughest aerial trick in women's skateboarding. Smith has landed five McTwists on a vert ramp, including the first in women's competition history last year, but had never landed one on concrete.
She came within inches during the final, showing so much heart that Lyn-z Adams Hawkins Pastrana -- who landed the first McTwist by a woman in 2009 -- leaned her pregnant belly over the rail to give Smith a high-five. But in the end, Smith's attempts were for naught.
After her TV interview, as the crowds dispersed and the men's BMX park riders geared up for their competition, Smith broke away from her parents and grabbed her board. She ran over to the lip of the course and held up her index finger toward the BMX pros on the opposite side of the bowl in a way that said, "One sec, boys!"
Then she dropped in. She picked up speed on the transitions. Suddenly, she pointed her board toward the deep end for one final try at the McTwist. The remaining people lingering in the stands caught on to what was happening and began to scream.
Smith shot up the wall like a bottle rocket. She backflipped through a 540-degree spin. You felt like something magical was about to happen.
Then she crashed.
It didn't matter to Smith. She collected her board, climbed out of the bowl with a sheepish grin stretched across her cheeks and shrugged her shoulders as only a sixth-grader can. "Shucks," the gesture said.
Suddenly, X Games sport organizer Jeff Jewett ran over in a frenzy. "Look at this," he said to Alana's mom, Ryonna Smith, holding out his phone. "Look who this is!" Tony Hawk had sent a photo of Smith airing out of the bowl to 3.4 million Twitter followers.
Years from now, when Smith's star is blinding her sport, it will be totally irrelevant that her last McTwist attempt failed. The cool part was she tried it, with nothing to gain.
This week wasn't all gushing preteens, but age-related themes were omnipresent. As they will with Smith, X Games fans have watched kids like Mitchie Brusco grow up, both literally and figuratively. Brusco, who debuted in 2011 as a 95-pound 14-year-old, made a big leap this week, becoming the third skateboarder to land a 1080 (and the oldest, at 16) and earning medals in Vert and Big Air.
The X Games have reached a point where it's hard to determine which is more impressive -- kids such as Smith and Brusco snatching a bigger share of the medal count, or athletes three times their age who are still winning gold, a la the over-40 trio of Jamie Bestwick, Bucky Lasek and Mike Brown.
Bestwick, by the way, actually looked beatable this week, something we haven't been able to say for a while. Simon Tabron tied him for the top score in BMX Vert, but Bestwick eked by on a tiebreaker, cementing the first eight-peat in X Games history. That competition was almost as thrilling as the Street League Skateboarding final, in which Mr. Clutch, Nyjah Huston, snatched victory from Paul Rodriguez's fingertips on the last run of the day, winning by one-tenth of a point.
Just as the wind and rain persisted here, frustratingly canceling two of the most anticipated X Games events in Moto X Freestyle and Ford RallyCross, winning streaks did too. In addition to Bestwick, Lasek and Huston, Garrett Reynolds won his sixth straight BMX Street title, Bob Burnquist made it four straight Skateboard Big Air victories, Pedro Barros won his third consecutive Skateboard Park gold and Zack Warden defended his BMX Big Air title from Brazil.
Barcelona is an extraordinary city for too many reasons to cite here (an opinion apparently shared by the thousands of feral cats that live in the local bushes), but attention to detail is one, and dogged tenacity is another. Look no further for proof than the most famous landmark in a city full of them: Sagrada Família, a stunningly detailed cathedral that is in its 131st year of construction, with no end in sight.
BMX Park rider Gary Young probably isn't going to make it to age 131, but no one's X Games story fit this city better. Young has competed at the X Games each of the past 12 years, qualified No. 1 multiple times and finished in the top five 10 times, but until this weekend, he'd never won. So when Young finally captured his first gold medal, you can understand why his face glowed like a meteor.
What made it even more special, and what personified the X Games spirit, was seeing how happy the men he defeated were for him.