20 Athletes To Watch at X Games Minneapolis
X Games Minneapolis: Athletes to watch
This year, X Games moves to Minneapolis for four days of the best action sports competition in the world, featuring skateboarding, BMX and motocross. And with a new year comes new gold medalists and athletes to watch, so XGames.com assembled the following: Twenty athletes to watch at X Games Minneapolis 2017. Get to know the stars of X Games Minneapolis before the show gets underway, and tune in live July 13-16.
Lizzie Armanto: Women's Skateboard Park
It has been a big year for Women's Skateboard Park phenom Lizzie Armanto. Between getting the pro nod from Birdhouse (Tony Hawk's board brand) and releasing a full interview and video for Thrasher Magazine (not to mention a cover), Armanto has moved into the forefront of a new women's movement in skateboarding that champions multidiscipline diversity. (Yes, she has vert skills, too.) With flow, style and the ability to double air over Jason Jessee, Armanto is one to watch heading into X Games Minneapolis 2017.
Pedro Barros: Skateboard Park
Park skating at X Games comes down to versatility. With a new course laid for each competition, skaters come in and are expected to spot the lines, create a run and lay down some hammers along the way. Fortunately, X Games invites Brazil's Pedro Barros to Skateboard Park, because this is where Barros excels. Forget all the medal counts and records he's setting -- just watch him float an air above the Skateboard Park course and know that you're watching one of the best in the world do his thing. (But just in case: Barros is the defending gold medalist in Skateboard Park.)
Jamie Bestwick: BMX Vert
Two years ago, the world of BMX Vert was thrown for a competitive loop when vert ruler Jamie Bestwick's gold-medal streak was cut just short of 10 by Australian Vince Byron. Bestwick deferred the podium spot to Byron and accepted the silver medal. He then traveled back to Woodward Camp and jumped straight back into training, unleashing the alley-oop tail whip 540 in 2016 and winning back the gold medal. This year, Bestwick is back, and at age 45 he continues to challenge himself, from road-bike racing to new business ventures, with healthy amounts of air in between.
Curren Caples: Skateboard Park
Although most skaters invited to compete at X Games compete in only one discipline, Curren Caples is one who could easily snatch invites to both Street and Park and walk away with dual gold medals on a good day. It's this versatility that has catapulted Caples into the higher echelons of skateboarding, and he continues to excel on all obstacles thrown in front of him. This year, Caples is the defending silver medalist in Skateboard Park, with his eyes on dethroning fellow skater Pedro Barros.
Kenn Coolbeth Jr.: Moto X Flat Track
In January, Kenny Coolbeth Jr. joined the Factory Team for Harley-Davidson, joining Brandon Robinson and Jake Johnson, with sights clearly set on the checkered flag heading into X Games Minneapolis 2017. This year at X, Moto X Flat Track opens up the event, and as we've seen in past years, it's anyone's game. But Coolbeth Jr. has years of experience, countless wins and Flat Track expertise on his side. "One to watch" could definitely be an understatement in this case.
Ryan DeCenzo: Skateboard Street
For a handful of years, Skateboard Street competitions became a race for second place behind Nyjah Huston. Darkstar pro Ryan DeCenzo helped change that perception last year when he finished in front of Huston to take gold at X Games Austin 2016. Since then, DeCenzo has maintained his momentum and consistency to emerge as a street skater who transcends the boundaries between competition and filming. He's the defending gold medalist, and he's known for not having bad days in competitive circles. All of this means one thing: DeCenzo has a winning formula heading into Minneapolis.
Dennis Enarson: BMX Park
There are greats in BMX, and then there is Dennis Enarson. Hailing from San Diego, Enarson is a multidiscipline killer who can adapt his riding to any terrain from Park to Street to Dirt. (We have yet to see him enter a vert competition, but we wouldn't doubt him doing pretty well.) Last year at X Games, Enarson, a four-time silver medalist in BMX Park, decided to narrow his focus to Park and declined his Street invite. The result was his first X Games BMX Park gold medal. This year, he's competing in both Park and Dirt and hopes to capitalize on his versatility.
Taka Higashino: Moto X Freestyle
Last year at X Games Austin 2016, Taka Higashino finished just off the podium in both Moto X Freestyle and Best Trick. After years of earning gold, he's hungry again. Heading into X Games Minneapolis 2017, Higashino has the benefit of a new venue on his side, free of rain, wind or any other element that might curtail progression. And he has been steadily practicing his wide variety of flip variations and yet-unseen additions to the Higashino bag of tricks. We're not giving up anything here, though. Just stay tuned for Moto X Best Trick.
Nyjah Huston: Skateboard Street
Coming in hot to X Games Minneapolis 2017 is Skateboard Street prodigy Nyjah Huston. Fresh off a few wins at Street League Barcelona and Red Bull's Hart Lines, Huston is a certified contest killer with renewed momentum and focus. Huston is also one of the few X Games pros with his own training facility and dedicated practice days. In between skating, Huston has also explored new interests in motocross and BMW racing, but he's most at home on his Element board with a freshly painted rail ready for destruction.
Jarryd McNeil: Moto X Step Up/Best Whip
Triple invites in the Moto X field is not something that happens every day, but Jarryd McNeil is one of the few Moto X athletes who can air a quarterpipe, whip it sideways and also contend in the Step Up field. At X Games Minneapolis 2017, McNeil will take on Moto X Quarterpipe High Air, Best Whip and Step Up, and if all goes well mechanically, there's a good chance he could very well win three golds. McNeil has been warming himself up all year long on the Nitro Circus tour circuit, so there should be no X Games nervousness come July.
Jared Mees: Moto X Flat Track
Jared Mees enters X Games Minneapolis 2017 as the defending gold medalist for Moto X Flat Track, and he's using his "finessely aggressive" approach to his advantage. A member of the Indian Motorcycles Wrecking Crew in 2017, Mees has his hands full, splitting his time between new-dad duty, road-bike riding and motocross. Look out for No. 69 on the Moto X Flat Track.
Kisa Nakamura: Women's Skateboard Park
When the dust settled in Women's Skateboard Park at X Games Austin 2016, a new name emerged with the tagline "gold" attached to it: Japan's Kisa Nakamura. Nakamura, 17, is a park and vert skater with the skills to win contests and make her lines look easy. She's also expanding outside of X Games. Last year, Nakamura took third place at the Vans Pro Park Championships in Sweden, and following her invite to X Games this year, Nakamura said, "I will do my best this time." This coming from the returning gold medalist.
Ryan Nyquist: BMX Dirt
With the exception of one absence, 2017 marks Ryan Nyquist's 20th year of X Games competition. One of the original all-terrain killers, Nyquist is no stranger to the BMX Park and Dirt podium, and he's not slowing down anytime soon. Earlier this year, Nyquist started wowing the crowd at the Vans Park series with 900 attempts and some of the biggest 540 gaps ever seen to date at the Malaga, Spain, stop. He went down hard multiple times, but got back up and made it happen, yet again. That brand of commitment equally applies to Nyquist's BMX Dirt forays at X Games. Look out below, Minneapolis!
Thomas Pages: Moto X Best Trick
Frenchman Tom Pages is one of the most innovative freestylers on the planet. The progressive Pages has invented or advanced many of the toughest tricks in the sport, such as the flair, double-grab backflip and front flip flair. He has four quarterpipes at his riding compound in France: two to dirt and two to the foam pit. He's by far the best on the apparatus, and he's fresh off a 2016 YouTube edit that was three years in the making. Moto X Best Trick is anyone's game, but knowing Pages, he's coming into Minneapolis with a big bag of tricks and the consistency to take gold.
Ronnie Renner: Moto X Step Up
One of the great personalities of freestyle motocross, Renner owns the most Step Up gold medals of all time (7) -- and the most Step Up medals, period (11). He cleared an X Games-record height of 47 feet at the 2012 Games in Los Angeles. He hails from Florida and now lives in Southern California, and he does not practice for Step Up competitions. "The lip is different at every competition, so you can cheat yourself by making a step up at home," Renner says. "I'd rather show up healthy and strong."
Garrett Reynolds: BMX Street
Last year was a stellar year in the streets for BMX rider Garrett Reynolds. He dropped one of the best contest runs of his life at X Games Austin 2016 (in the final seconds of the competition under the threat of rain), and then returned to the "World of X Games" for the first year of Real BMX, where he earned another gold medal. This year, Reynolds is the defending champ in BMX Street, but he has never been one to boast. He'd rather have his ear buds in, riding with his friends and continuing to expand his repertoire.
Pamela Rosa: Women's Skateboard Street
In four short years of X Games competition, Brazil's Pamela Rosa has earned four medals (two gold, two silver) in Women's Skateboard Street. She's consistent, adaptive and able to grasp new techniques and setups with ease. Just before X Games Minneapolis, Rosa traveled to Southern California to film and take in the smooth concrete. And when Minneapolis rolls around, she will be ready to attack.
Josh Sheehan: Moto X Best Trick/Freestyle
Josh Sheehan is perhaps best known for becoming the world's first motocross rider to land a triple backflip on a dirt bike, but he's also one of the most versatile and adaptive Moto X Freestyle riders on the planet. Last year, Sheehan went for it all and competed in four Moto X disciplines, but this year, he has narrowed his sights to Freestyle and Best Trick. Fresh off the Nitro Circus tour, Sheehan is in prime shape to throw down for the crowds of X Games Minneapolis.
Jackson Strong: Moto X Best Trick/Freestyle
Jackson Strong and the word "offseason" don't seem to know each other. Just after X Games Austin 2016, Strong went back out on tour. And when the season ended, he switched it up to Snow Bikes, traveling to X Games Aspen 2017 for a Snow Bike Freestyle demonstration that later brought us the world's first backflip on a Snow Bike and a half-hour show for ABC's "World of X Games." This summer, the wheels are back on the bike, and the Jackson Strong show is descending on Moto X Best Trick and Freestyle for X Games Minneapolis 2017. Strap in and hold on!
Ishod Wair: Skateboard Street
Real Skateboards pro Ishod Wair grabbed a bronze medal in Skateboard Street at X Games Austin 2016, but in the time since, Wair's status as a skate legend has grown to expand transition skating. That's right, Wair took some inspiration from the Skateboard Park gods and started destroying everything in his path, all the while releasing a new part for Real Street 2017 and ripping around Europe for months at a time. Heading into X Games Minneapolis 2017, Wair remains focused on Skateboard Street, but the sky is definitely the limit for the New Jersey native.