Simply the Bestwick
FOZ DO IGUAÇU, Brazil -- About 30 minutes before he would do something no action-sports athlete had ever done, Jamie Bestwick walked upstairs on a tower of scaffolding and began to undress.
The former aircraft repairman from Nottingham, England, took off his fluorescent green sneakers, replaced them with BMX bike shoes, then removed his shirt. Cut like a middleweight boxer and sporting tattoos on his torso, Bestwick came to Brazil as the most dominant vert, or halfpipe, rider in history. He entered Saturday's competition as the six-time defending X Games champion and nine-time champ overall, having won his first title in 2000, shortly after he quit fixing planes to ride bikes full-time.
There are some who think BMX vert riding is boring because the same person wins every event. Travis Pastrana, perhaps the most famous action-sports athlete in the world, does not share that opinion. In town to race rally cars on Sunday, Pastrana made the 30-minute drive from downtown Foz up to Iguaçu Falls on Saturday because BMX vert riders "inspire" him to do what he does on a motorcycle. He also wanted to see if Bestwick could earn the first seven-peat in any X Games sport, winter or summer.
Bestwick was placed in the second of two qualifying heats, which meant he had 15 minutes to kill. He took his spot on the rail overlooking the ramp, next to parents and girlfriends and audio-visual workers, as the first heat began. Simon Tabron, another British rider who is perhaps the closest thing Bestwick has to competition, dropped in.
"Yeah, Si!" Bestwick yelled in his thick British accent.
Vince Byron dropped in next. "Yeah, Vincey! Get it, dog!"
Bestwick, still shirtless, turned to someone next to him. "Did I just completely miss my qualifying group? Is this the final?" He turned back to the action and muttered to himself, "Five double whips already. I better get my s--- together."
A few minutes later, Bestwick dropped in to the same ramp and posted the top two scores of either heat. And so began the formality masquerading as the competition that everyone had come to see. Bestwick would go on to win by nine points on a 100-point scale. If it were anyone else, you'd say it was a rout. With Bestwick, it might even be a smaller margin than average.
"He can mess up, and if he does, that's your opportunity," fellow competitor Zack Warden said. "But if he doesn't, we all kind of know that he's just going to sail away with it."
Watching Bestwick ride a vert ramp is like watching Usain Bolt sprint -- like watching a cheetah among gazelles. He has tricks only he can do, but the world never sees them because he never needs to show them in competition. On Saturday, after landing three new tricks but withholding the rest as future trump cards, Bestwick felt comfortable enough to offer Austin Coleman, last year's fifth-place finisher at X Games Los Angeles, a personal lesson.
Coleman had recently learned a flair downside whip, which Bestwick invented years ago. Bestwick saw that Coleman's version could use some help. "Come to camp [Woodward] and I'll give you a few pointers on it," Bestwick said after finishing his round of victory interviews. Then, worried about how that might sound, he added, "I'm not being a smartass; I really will help you out."
"Generally, that would be a cocky thing to say to another competitor," Coleman said later. "It's the finals and this is the best of the best, the top 10 riders in the world. If somebody were to say that to another competitor after, like, a tennis match -- 'Come to my house and I'll help you with that backhand' -- you'd be like, 'He's a d---.' But Jamie can afford to give a little help, and he'll do that. He's a generous guy."
Bestwick did not develop his edge overnight, or in a year, for that matter. Known throughout the sport for his Jerry Rice-like work ethic, he and his family moved to State College, Pa., to be close to the Woodward training facility and allow access to vert ramps every day. "A lot of us will go to the skatepark and ride for like an hour, and if no one else is there, we're done," Warden said. "Jamie rides between three and six hours a day, and if someone's there, he'll ride with you, but if you're not there, he's still riding."
Added Tabron: "You can't understate how much hard work he puts in and how much he should be respected because of that. He's earned everything he has."
Such an approach is not lost on champions from other sports. "Everyone who comes here knows where the bar is. I think the hardest part is to be Bestwick and to be the bar," Pastrana said. "Because everyone's gunning for you and you have to continually raise that or you will get passed.
"The names come and go and I admire everybody. But the greats stay."
After winning his seventh straight gold medal, Bestwick made his round of interviews, then apologized to a TV cameraman for getting in his way during the final. "I understand you've got to do your job." He then thanked the same cameraman for persevering on such a hot day.
A young fan asked him for the gloves he used Saturday; Bestwick gave him a new pair from his suitcase instead.
Pride beamed through his grin as he described the victory.
"I came from working a regular job 12 hours a day, six days a week, to being the record-holder for most consecutive gold medals at the X Games," he said. "And I think that's pretty special."
So do his rivals. "Just getting to be a part of this generation, the Bestwick era, is awesome," Warden said.