X Games Preview: The Top Athletes to Watch in Austin
ESPN's Summer X Games kick off Thursday night in Austin, Texas, with some familiar faces and some newcomers looking to make names for themselves in the world of action sports. Returning to their annual format from 2013's four-event global circuit, the Games will go down in Austin for the first time after a long and storied history in Los Angeles.
Here are 12 of the most intriguing athletes to keep an eye on during the X Games Austin:
Nyjah Huston | 19 years old | Men's Skateboard Street
Dominant whiz kid Huston just missed out on a sweep of X Games golds in 2013, sitting out the Munich event with an injury, but impressively finishing first in Los Angeles, Barcelona and Foz do Icuaçu. Don't let the age fool you—he's an old hand at the Games, debuting at 11 and winning his first gold at the ripe age of 14. All he seems to do is win, with plenty of style to go along with his technical prowess as established in well-known video parts including last year's "Fade to Black." Pencil him in as one of the favorites on the course.
Paul Rodriguez | 29 years old | Men's Skateboard Street
Though Paul Rodriguez has added entrepreneur to his résumé, dropping a new Nike sneaker last month, owning several skate brands and aspiring to become an actor when his career ends, make no mistake—he's still very much a contender. P-Rod last won gold in 2012 and the four-time champ will be back for another run in Austin. He'll battle it out with competitors including Huston (who grew up watching him skate) and Chris Cole (who won gold in Munich last year) in what should be a compelling street competition.
Bucky Lasek | 41 years old | Skateboard Vert, RallyCross
Bucky Lasek had a renaissance in 2013, sweeping Vert gold at all four X Games events at age 40, proving to everyone that he could still do it. The rare two-sport X Games athlete, the skate legend is still going strong and will look to defend his golds while searching for his first medal in another of his passions, RallyCross. Lasek is nursing a recent elbow injury that has limited his mobility and won't be 100 percent—both events will be made more difficult as a result. But after last year's success and a decorated career, Lasek's a tough guy to doubt. Watch closely.
Bob Burnquist | 37 years old | Skateboard Big Air
Winner of 11 X Games golds, Brazil native Burnquist seems like he has been around forever—he took part in his first Games in 1995. He and Lasek are familiar names to generations of skating fans and video gamers alike—they were two of the original members of the Tony Hawk's Pro Skater roster. Like his former Vert doubles partner, Burnquist is still going very strong—between 2011 and 2013 he rattled off six straight Big Air wins before coming in third in Los Angeles. As always, expect to see Burnquist on the podium.
Ken Block | 46 years old | RallyCross
A man of many trades, Block's a co-founder of DC shoes, an extremely successful businessman and a longtime rally competitor. He recently appeared in an ad in which he used his car to take on soccer star Neymar, using his wheels instead of his feet. He's got two silvers, but has never won gold at the X Games. That could change this weekend, but he'll likely have to get past decorated defending champ Tanner Foust and rising 22-year-old Toomas Heikkinen to do it.
Riley Hawk | 21 years old | Men's Skateboard Street
There's an expectation attached to being a skater with the last name Hawk. Son of the legendary Tony Hawk, Riley turned pro last December on his 21st birthday. Though he's following in his father's footsteps, Riley's a very different skater: Where his dad starred on the halfpipe, Hawk excels in street competition and opted to ride for a skate company other than his father's back in 2012. He has set out to make his own name, and will have the chance to do just that in his X Games debut.
Ryan Sheckler | 24 years old | Men's Skateboard Street
The former skate prodigy, MTV star and teen heartthrob has been around since 2003, when he took the title of youngest-ever X Games winner. Since taking the Park competition with a brace-covered grin as a 13-year-old, Scheckler changed events and won street gold in 2008 and 2010. He failed to place in last year's four X competitions due to ankle injuries, and Austin presents a bounce-back opportunity. Older and wiser, Sheckler just might have something to prove as he competes for his third gold.
Leticia Bufoni | 21 years old | Women's Skateboard Street
The defending champ, two-time gold winner and five-time medalist has finished at the top of the World Cup Skateboarding overall street rankings the past three years. Bufoni won her first X Games gold in her native Brazil last year and has a great chance to continue that success in Austin.
Shane O'Neill | 24 years old | Men's Skateboard Street
O'Neill, a native of Melbourne, Australia, is known for his imaginative style and penchant for inventing new tricks in innovative video parts, gaining viral fame across the internet. O'Neill has competed in the X Games since 2010 but has yet to medal. With his level of precision and ability, it seems like it's only a matter of time.
Curren Caples | 18 years old | Skateboard Park
The son of pro surfer Evan Caples, Curren turned pro last year and promptly took gold in Munich and silver in Barcelona in the park competition. Another prodigious talent, he'll deploy his smooth style and trademark long blonde locks as he shoots for another gold and hopes to continue his rapid professional ascent.
Alana Smith | 13 years old | Women's Skateboard Street
Smith took the title of youngest X Games medalist as a 12-year-old last year in Barcelona, with a silver medal in Women's Park. She learned to skate competing against boys from an early age, and could be one of the most exciting female riders to emerge in recent memory. If last year was any indication, Smith's here to stay.
Morgan Wade | 30 years old | BMX Big Air
Veteran rider Wade will defend his Big Air gold medal in front of a favorable crowd in his native Texas. Unafraid to go for huge, difficult tricks, Wade delivers runs that are often can't-miss entertainment. The happy-go-lucky Wade should put on another show in the Lone Star State.