X Games 17: What to watch for

Much like a summit that convenes the brightest minds in physics, the X Games remains the epicenter of innovation among sport's modern daredevils and action heroes. The 17th edition in downtown Los Angeles promises the same novelty that has defined this annual spectacle, with superstars like Shaun White and Travis Pastrana (who is squeezing in a NASCAR debut between X events this year) competing against upstarts from around the world of action sports, all seeking the same thing: an X Games gold medal. It'd take a novella to highlight every personality and athletic feat to watch for this week, but we've taken the liberty of singling out the best of each day. Don't worry, you can sleep next week.


Don't Miss: Moto X Best Trick (9:15-10 p.m. ET, ESPN). Best Trick at the X Games has become what the NBA dunk contest used to be: a testing ground for what is possible. The list of tricks you might see on X17's opening night this year, according to the guarded riders themselves, includes a 75-foot front flip, a no-handed double backflip and an inverted 720. The field is decidedly foreign, with five Aussies and a Japanese rider countering just two Americans. But those two Americans -- Travis Pastrana and Kyle Loza -- happen to own four Best Trick gold medals, including three by Loza. Pastrana's 720 -- dubbed the TP Roll -- has been years in the making, and when he commits to something with that kind of persistence, he has made a career out of achieving it. "If Travis rides, he will be hard to beat," conceded defending gold medalist Cam Sinclair, who came back from a gruesome brain injury to win an emotional X16 Best Trick. In addition to Loza, Sinclair and Pastrana, watch Aussies Mark Monea (corked, spinning front flip) and Jackson Strong (aforementioned 75-footer).

Also: In BMX Big Air (10-11 p.m. ET, ESPN), three-time gold medalist Kevin Robinson -- who won as recently as 2009 and has competed in 15 X Games -- is out with an injury this year. So are Morgan Wade and Andy Buckworth, a stark reminder that the vaunted MegaRamp brings both glory and peril. The weakened field leaves the door wide open for defending champ Chad Kagy, or X rookie (and triple backflip artist) Jed Mildon. In Skateboard Park (8-9:15 p.m. ET, ESPN), Brazilian pool-riding phenom Pedro Barros, 16, goes for his second consecutive gold.


Don't Miss: Skateboarding Big Air (9:30-11 p.m. ET, ESPN). You might remember the historic night in 1999 when Tony Hawk landed skateboarding's first 900 on the X Games vert ramp. The fabled trick still has been landed by only six skaters, two of whom, 35-year-old Bob Burnquist and 14-year-old Mitchie Brusco, landed 900s recently on mega quarterpipes, a feature that follows the MegaRamp gap jump in Big Air. Brusco likely earned his first X Games invite because of his 900, and there's a chance we'll see a 900 attempted on the quarterpipe in the Big Air final -- perhaps from Burnquist, who won gold in 2007 and 2008 but has been unable to defeat Jake Brown since then. Of course, lost in the hubbub over the holy grail trick is the fact that Brown has won gold the last two years without it.

Also: Of all the events at this year's X Games, Moto X Freestyle (7-9:15 p.m., ESPN) is one of the biggest question marks, featuring a field full of potential winners led by defending champ (and seven-time Freestyle gold medalist) Pastrana, who waited until the last minute to enter. Smooth Europeans Dany Torres and Andre Villa, 11-time X medalist Nate Adams and Aussie Blake "Bilko" Williams, who's trying to return to his 2009 gold-medal form after being out with an injury last year, will challenge Pastrana. In BMX Vert (8-9:30 p.m., ESPN), the incomparable Jamie Bestwick puts his four-year winning streak on the line, attempting to win his ninth gold medal at age 40.


Don't Miss: Men's Skateboard Street (4:30-6 p.m., ABC). Since claiming his second straight silver medal in Street last summer, 16-year-old Nyjah Huston has entered a new echelon. The youngest X Games competitor in history (Huston was 11 years old when he debuted in eighth place) has dominated Street League, relegating Ryan Sheckler to second place. Ah, but Sheckler still has the edge at X, where he's won three gold medals, including last year's nail-biter over Huston. Can Huston finally win on the sport's biggest stage? To do so, he'll have to contend with the deepest field of the year, a result of Street League skaters (who sign exclusive contracts that prohibit them from competing in most other major contests) facing big-name street skaters who compete in events like the Maloof Money Cup.

Also: We get our first glimpse of the wild new Rally Racing course through L.A.'s streets (4-6 p.m., ESPN), which will feature a much more international field than in years past. In women's Moto X Racing (9-10 p.m., ESPN2), we'll see if Jessica Patterson can finally overcome her bad luck at X and win gold ahead of Ashley Fiolek. The two women dominate their sport, but Fiolek has owned their rivalry in L.A., winning two years in a row. Gold medalists Daniel Dhers (2010, 2008, 2007) and Scotty Cranmer (2006, 2009) can be expected to duke it out again in BMX Park (2:15-4 p.m., ESPN). And finally, in Skateboard Vert (10-11 p.m., ESPN3.com), 2007 winner Shaun White tries once more to end three-time defending champ Pierre Luc Gagnon's reign. While the rivals go at it, keep your eye on Alex Perelson, a stylish 20-year-old vert specialist who became the fourth member of the 900 club in 2009.


Don't Miss: RallyCross (5-7 p.m., ESPN). Perhaps the most anticipated event at X17, RallyCross brings 100 mph speeds and bullish head-to-head racing to city streets this year. But while Tanner Foust, last year's Rally double gold medalist, still figures to be the popular pick to win, the drivers themselves have a different target in sight: two-time world champion Marcus Grönholm. Grönholm, a 43-year-old Finnish legend making his X Games debut, leads a strong group of Euros challenging American stars like Foust, Pastrana and Brian Deegan, who won two silvers in Rally at X16 and is driving a new car this year. "Marcus doesn't make mistakes, so if you're going to beat him, you have to risk a lot," said Foust, who, like Deegan and Grönholm, races in a Ford Fiesta. Deegan added: "Marcus will be the hardest to beat, period." Foust, however, isn't counting Deegan out. "He's probably the hungriest guy out there," Foust said. "He's not going to be satisfied with silver this year, I can tell you that."

Also: The X Games has never shied away from introducing new competitive formats, and this year's Enduro X debut (9:15-11 p.m., ESPN2) continues that tradition. Moto X racers will ride over telephone poles, boulder fields and giant tractor tires to simulate true off-road conditions and determine the best all-around rider. On the men's side, Taddy Blazusiak of Poland is the overwhelming favorite, while full-time electrician and women's off-road champ Maria Forsberg is the front-runner in the ladies field.