LOS ANGELES -- The annual duel between Ronnie Renner and Matt Buyten hit a new high during the Sony Moto X Step Up event Friday night -- literally. The longtime rivals shattered the X Games record for height cleared on their dirtbikes, with Renner ultimately eclipsing a bar set 47 feet off the Staples Center dirt to win his third gold medal and unseat two-time defending champion Buyten.
Renner's jump broke the record Buyten set at last year's X Games by 10 feet. The 11-jump, can-you-top-this battle between Renner and Buyten brought thousands of spectators to their feet but also left the two veterans wincing in pain and limping away from the jump like wounded gladiators. That was especially true for Renner who suffered a wrist injury midway through the competition and was visibly distressed after each landing.
"I wanted that worse than I've ever wanted it," said Renner, who last won in 2009. "I figured, hell, I've got four kids already, so... The wrist, that was kind of the killer."
After starting at 32 feet, the six-man field was whittled to two when third-place finisher Brian Deegan -- the only rider to compete at every X Games since Moto X was added in 1999 -- failed to clear 40 feet. From there, it became a déjà-vu duel between Renner and Buyten, who have gone at each other for years, although the past two episodes have ended with Buyten on top.
"I looked around at one point, and the entire Staples Center was standing," Buyten said. "It really made me appreciate why I do this. I may have lost this battle, but it was an awesome fight. We've got a hell of a rivalry going. I got the last two years, Renner got this one, but I plan to be back and keep battling for many more years."
Before the two-man competition took shape, Myles Richmond endured a horrific crash that left him crumpled on the dirt. He was attempting to clear 38 feet but abandoned his bike in mid air and plummeted to the landing ramp. As of this writing, X Games medical staff had evaluated his left femur and right ankle and he was on the way to a hospital.
The unprecedented heights Buyten and Renner cleared later in the event bottomed out their shocks and snapped their heads forward with each impact. It almost became painful to watch. But owing to their rivalry, neither wanted to give in.
"The impact becomes a real big issue anything over 35 feet," said Buyten, who competed on an all-blue bike to raise awareness for autism. "I've got a ripping headache right now from landing so hard. We're falling four stories out of the sky, and that's not talking it up at all. That's being nice. It's pretty gnarly."
As for how the record height has skyrocketed from 35 feet two years ago to 47 feet this year, Buyten credited an improvised course and stronger machines. "Every year the bikes just get stronger and more powerful, and the X Games crew built a huge lip that lets us do what we can do," he said. "It's awesome."