There are basically two schools of thought for riders coming into X Games 17 Best Trick:
1. Come with something so new, so mind-bending, so innovative that gold is the only reasonable response.
2. Come with something sick and cool and legit, but play it smart as the event unfolds and maybe a medal can be had by crossing the line of progression without obliterating it.
In this year field, we should see both schools in action.
Travis Pastrana is working on two tricks never executed in competition before. One is the TP Roll (an off-axis 720), and he has talked about a 1080, although the latter seemed increasingly unlikely at press time. "After my last attempt, I told the guys from Red Bull, 'I'm going to die in there,'" Pastrana says, referring to the foam pit where he's been working on the 1080. "Given the time frame, it's unrealistic to think we can get the 1080. The 720 is close enough and I think that's more realistic." What is without question is that Pastrana is training feverishly, focused and committed. It's possible even he won't know what kind of history he'll try to make in Best Trick until very shortly before the event itself -- a 1080 attempt wouldn't be the first time he went for a trick he didn't initially think he'd try in competition. But he's going to decide based on what he truly believes he can make stick and ride away with the top prize.
Robbie Maddison has made his intentions clear: The Double Volt. He discovered it by accident, over rotating in practice while learning the single version of the body varial. "I want to keep doing the Volt [single] until it becomes second nature, and then I'll think about the double," Maddison told ESPN in late June. At the time of the quote he had yet to attempt the double into his foam pit, but he's since made the single Volt a regular part of his freestyle run. This is a rider with a pro athlete's mentality -- not your normal FMX free spirit with a wild-hair hankering to hang it out. Doubt him at your peril. Heads up against something else truly new, it will be a hard call. But if he's the last man standing, he might be standing on top when it's all said and done.
Cameron Sinclair is coming with that what made him and almost broke him: the double back. "My plan is to do a one-handed double backflip on the first jump to see what that score will be," he says, "and if it's not enough for gold, I'll do a no-handed double backflip or possibly a one-handed to Nac-Nac double flip." A double-backflip variation never has been landed before, but the side-by-side doubles Sinclair pulled with Travis Pastrana during Nitro Circus Live prove that the basic trick is now an old standby. Will a tweak or two on something old be enough to beat something new? It's hard to see the defending champ as the favorite going in, but if the bleeding-edge boys visit the dirt, the old standby with a bit of fresh makeup may be enough for a repeat.
From what's been shared, Taka Higashino can be expected to attempt a new, complex backflip variation. It will be dramatic and impressive, and give him a shot to repeat on the podium (he earned bronze last year) but gold may be a challenge. He'll need at least a couple of his competitors to have trouble putting clean rubber down on the dirt.
A few months ago, Aussie Blake "Bilko" Williams wasn't sure if Best Trick was in his plans, but he's received an invite based on what promises to be a new 360 variation. Bilko's one of the few who can claim even basic 360s; combined that with his 2009 silver medal that not just a few thought should have been gold, and it's fair to say the podium is within his reach. The top slot, however, is a whole different challenge.
Kyle Loza is both fully credible and a question mark. Ceaseless rumors about the bike flip (backflipping the bike while floating next to it, connecting by one hand) have recently been joined by rumors of a deeply tweaked wrist that won't heal and will make the trick impossible. Count on him to have a couple variations of his trademark body varials, which have served him well enough for a Best Trick three-peat between '07 and '09. He will adapt to the flow of the comp, taking chances if he has to (and can). Loza is experienced and clever enough to do just enough to win or deliver something truly astonishing if the moment calls for it.
Mark Monea announced himself to the world with a video showing a heretofore-unseen frontflip variation, the "Carry On." A pro mechanic and riding partner of Williams and Cam Sinclair, the invite committee agreed Monea's credentials were solid and the trick was too innovative and creative to ignore. He recently failed an attempt at the trick in front of a big Nitro Circus Live crowd, but reportedly didn't have practice time. But the secret to this trick is that it's considered easier than a typical front, as the off-axis nature of the spin actually decreases the amount of necessary rotation. Now he just has to land it on the sport's biggest stage.
Unlike most one-trick riders who have come to X wielding frontflips, Jackson Strong is an experienced freestyle rider. Strong built a replica of the Best Trick setup, including the full drop-in ramp, at his home in Australia to get comfortable with what the Staples Center will demand. There's no question he can pull the front -- he's done it repeatedly under the spotlight of various live shows -- and his training should have him familiar with the tighter-than-usual set up. Strong will also jump with a full suspension (others lock their front forks to get more rotation on the takeoff), so he should be able to hand whatever the landing throws at him. If he pulls the first successful front in X Games competition, he's likely to be rewarded.