Friday June 6th, 2014

The first-ever Austin X Games kicked off Thursday, with the Texas Capitol Building cast as the backdrop to a day of high-flying halfpipe events at a brand-new locale. Vert finals for both BMX and Skateboard, regularly two of the Games’ most jaw-dropping events, started the proceedings off with a boom.

Entering the evening, there was potential for history. All-time great Jamie Bestwick, at age 42, had a chance to cement his place in BMX history with a ninth straight Vert gold. 41-year-old Bucky Lasek looked for a fifth straight gold on his skateboard. Living legends, masters of their disciplines. One would go home victorious, the other would finish without a medal.

BMX Vert

It was Bestwick, the dominant Brit, who threw down the most impressive run of the night in either event. He went big on his first run, concluding the first round of heats with a string of several consecutive flair tricks and flip combinations adding up to a score of 92.66. Minutes earlier, countryman Simon Tabron had ridden gigantic airs to an 89.66.

As usual, nobody could touch Bestwick—not four-time winner Chad Kagy, who couldn’t quite get going; not Tabron, whose second run couldn’t match his first (but would land him a silver medal); and not 47-year-old Dennis McCoy, who placed third with an 88.33 in his second run. McCoy did land one of the night’s most impressive tricks, sticking a 900 to complete his score and show everyone he could still do it with his first medal since 1997.

PHOTOS: A Day in the Life: Pro Skateboarder Nyjah Huston

Bestwick’s final run was a victory lap, his first score left untouched and dropping in with nobody left to follow him. Naturally, he pulled the second-highest score of the evening anyway, a 90.33. Bestwick couldn’t claim two medals, but he certainly further bolstered his claim as the best ever in the Vert with the 12th X Games gold of his career, and the first of the Austin Games.

Skateboard Vert

It was a far different tale when the skaters took to the halfpipe, the old hands largely unable to hang around. On the contrary—with a majority of contestants struggling, the top score of the night belonged to a newer face: 20-year-old Jimmy Wilkins. Wilkins posted the run of the night on his third try with an 87.00, showcasing a smooth style in a flurry of long limbs and tube socks topped off with an Ollie 540 as the highlight.

The win made Wilkins the youngest Vert skate winner of all time, displacing Shaun White. He seemed genuinely surprised with himself and unprepared for the spotlight, shying away from his television interview after winning. He’d better get used to it, if tonight’s success is any indication.

Second place belonged to 39-year-old Brazilian Sandro Dias, who hadn’t medaled since winning gold in 2006. He scored an 85.66 on his first run and nearly stuck a 900 in is second. Another young gun, 17-year-old Mitchie Brusco, nabbed the bronze with an 84.00. It was a big night for the younger skaters, and a bump in the road for most of the older ones.

Lasek, contending with an elbow injury, was aware the night would be tough. Always one to keep things light-hearted, he donned a white T-shirt with two hand-scrawled messages.

The front: “I’m hurt, not old.” The back: “Maybe a little old.”

MORE: Pro Skateboarder Bucky Lasek Isn't Ready to Call it Quits

Both appeared true, as Lasek was unable to complete any of his three runs and finished in sixth. Each time, he couldn’t quite land tricks that had been regular staples of his arsenal for years. The only athlete in any event to sweep golds at each of four X Games locations in 2013 went home empty-handed. He’ll get another chance to medal on Saturday as a driver in the RallyCross competition.

The contest’s other favorite, 34-year-old Canadian Pierre-Luc Gagnon, also had difficulty stringing runs together and finishing tricks—falling short of the top three in fifth. Looking for his first gold since 2012 and 20th career X Games medal, PLG bailed right at the end of his first run of the night, which would have likely put him somewhere on the podium.

Looking ahead

Friday brings the first full day of X Games events, highlighted by BMX Street finals and Moto X finals in the Best Whip and Step-Up events. Garrett Reynolds will be the man to beat in BMX, holding six career gold medals in the event. Jeremy Stenberg and Josh Hansen are the top two contenders in Best Whip, and Ronnie Renner looks like a narrow favorite in Step-Up.

The star-studded Men’s Skateboard Street preliminaries will also take place Friday, where big names like Nyjah Huston, Paul Rodriguez and Ryan Sheckler will look to advance to Sunday’s finals. Keep an eye on rookie Riley Hawk, whose skateboarding bloodlines alone make his performance worth monitoring.

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