Something for all ages at X Games

X Games X Center says goodbye from Los Angeles 2012.

LOS ANGELES -- The athletes may age, the names and faces may change, but the X Games story never gets old. It revolves around colors (gold, silver, black and blue) and numbers (six-peats, 12-year-olds, 900s), but more than anything else, for 18 years it has revolved around abstract qualities such as guts. You can't measure guts.

But you can measure how high a bar is set off the ground, and Friday night at Staples Center, an annual duel between two aging Moto X daredevils reminded us what it means to have guts.

Going into the night, the X Games record for height cleared on a dirt bike was 37 feet. Matt Buyten set it last year by beating his longtime rival Ronnie Renner, and Renner wanted to reclaim the gold medal he'd last won in 2009. They got rid of the rest of the Step Up field within five jumps, leaving just them and a bar -- a bar that seemed capable of only moving higher.

As the event unfolded, each man endured punishing impact after punishing impact, wincing in a way that made you cringe. But neither was willing to give in to the other. As the bar climbed to 42 feet, then 43, 44, 45, 46 and, ultimately, 47 ruler-lengths off the dirt, both Renner and Buyten appeared to be in serious, wife-worrying pain. Yet still neither relented.

Finally, in a gift from the god of mercy, Buyten missed two straight attempts and Renner won. "I wanted that worse than I've ever wanted it," Renner said. We expected Buyten to be crushed by the defeat. Instead, he smiled and said: "I looked around at one point, and the entire Staples Center was standing. It really made me appreciate why I do this."

The feeling, of course, is mutual. We watch the X Games to see spectacular, gravity-defying feats performed on the cutting edge of possibility. But above all else, we watch because we know we'll always get their best.

Joshua Duplechian/ESPN

Steve McCann applied pressure during X Games Los Angeles, but several no-handed 900 crashes kept him off the podium.

This week saw its share of history, including dynasties extended by a pair of BMX technical savants. Vert rider Jamie Bestwick has made a career out of being a target, and he arrived in Los Angeles with the same title he has carried the past five years: defending champion. Never mind all the reasons we had to believe this might be the year someone beat him; Bestwick didn't flinch. He won his sixth straight gold medal -- just the second six-peat in XG history, joining Tony Hawk and Andy Macdonald's run in the now-defunct Skate Vert Doubles -- by a hard-to-comprehend 14-point margin.

"Everybody comes here to take down the champ," Bestwick said, baring a champion's fangs. "There were rumors that I spent the past six months locked away in some special training camp in the hills of Pennsylvania, and I figured if that's what you think, you can have one of my old [tricks] first and then I'll start dishing out the new ones after that."

Garrett Reynolds will have his chance to match Bestwick's six-peat next year after he won his fifth straight gold in BMX Street on Friday, holding off future star Chad Kerley.

"Chad killed it," Reynolds said in a classy interview after his win. "If it was up to me, I would've given it to him."

Joshua Duplechian/ESPN

Bob Burnquist overcame several falls and an earlier injury to top his much-hyped 16-and-under challengers.

The collision of young and old is always at the fore when it comes to the X Games, and in the Skateboard Big Air final, you can only hope the youngsters were watching Bob Burnquist. Ever the showman, Burnquist -- one of just four athletes to compete at all 18 X Games -- hobbled through a grueling back injury to stiff-arm four kids younger than 16 and defend his gold medal. If it was the last one he ever wins here, it may have been the most memorable. Of course, knowing Burnquist, he'll probably read those words and use them as motivation to win another five.

Redemption was another common theme around the X village. Though reigning Skate Vert champion Shaun White's decision not to show up left something to be desired in Pierre-Luc Gagnon's return to the top of the podium, PLG has fought valiantly for every medal he has ever won at X. Seeing him high-five fellow skate legends and 2012 medalists Bucky Lasek and Andy Macdonald in the flatbottom of the vert ramp was a special moment among many this year.

Like Gagnon, the way Scotty Cranmer, Pedro Barros, Paul Rodriguez and Alexis Sablone fought back to reclaim what was once theirs -- gold medals in BMX Park, Skate Park and men's and women's Skate Street, respectively -- proved what everyone on earth always wants to believe: that being knocked down does not mean you must stay there.

Joshua Duplechian/ESPN

Travis Pastrana considered taking teammate Bryce Menzies' spot in the last-chance qualifier, but X Games rules didn't allow it.

Becoming a champion also elicits delightfully candid emotions, and the most memorable this week belonged to first-time Moto X Freestyle gold medalist Taka Higashino.

"It's crazy!" he exclaimed. "I've been working hard every day for five years, thinking, 'I wish, I wish, I wish' and I've spent all of my life working on this X Games dream!" Higashino was so excited, in fact, that he forgot he'd planned to propose to his girlfriend if he won. (He made up for it by popping the question after claiming silver in Best Trick the next night.)

Of course, no X Games would be complete without some kind of riveting drama involving Travis Pastrana, and Sunday's RallyCross delivered. Unfortunately for Pastrana, for the second straight year the drama was more "Die Hard" than "Rudy." His race ended moments after it began when a 58-year-old Scottish scallop fisherman rammed him into the wall and destroyed his brand new car. As he sat steaming on the sideline, the best driver in the world, X Games rookie Sébastien Loeb -- who'd only entered after Pastrana challenged him on a YouTube video -- dominated the race and won going away.

The only consolation, for Pastrana and every X Games fan, is that TP will be back next year, hungrier than ever. Just as they all will be.

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