Paul Rodriguez won his first X Games gold medal in four years Saturday to regain prominence in the demanding and popular sport of street skateboarding -- and afterward gave credit to God.
“I either land the trick or I don’t even get on the podium,” the Simi Valley athlete said of a switch heel-flip performed over the stairs toward the end of the competition. “If I didn’t land that I wouldn’t be talking to you right now, so thank you Jesus for pulling that one out for me.”
Minutes later, behind the podium in the nearby Home Depot Center stadium, freestyle motocross icon Brian Deegan thanked God “for providing Jeremy Lusk with the skills and passion” that made the Temecula rider one of the premier FMX riders in the world.
Not at any X Games prior -- and there have been 14 others -- have devout beliefs become so evident among athletes, and so openly discussed.
Lusk was killed in an accident six months ago during a competition in Costa Rica.
An Aussie dedication
Deegan’s words were in tribute to his fallen Metal Mulisha teammate and close friend, who won the moto X freestyle final last year.
Australia’s Blake Williams, largely on the merit of an Indian Air 360, won that event to close out Saturday’s competition.
He dedicated the triumph to Lusk, referring to him as “a great guy and great competitor, a great champion and a good friend.”
Back to P-Rod
Rodriguez, whose 7-month-old daughter is named Heaven, prevailed on a daunting street course that featured a new format, including live scoring and three segments, on each of which the skateboarders got 10 tries.
Thanks to an array of difficult switch tricks -- performed while standing opposite his natural stance -- Rodriguez led going into the third segment, which included two steep banks and a 12-step staircase.
He stuck his switch heel-flip -- he took flight in the switch position and used his heel to flip the skateboard in mid-air -- on his ninth try.
“It was a huge itch and it finally got scratched,” Rodriguez, 24, said of his four-year gold medal drought.
“It’s nice to know I can still hang with the youngsters who are killing it.”
Nyjah Huston, 14, of Huntington Beach, was second. Adam Dyet of Salt Lake City was third.
Ashley Fiolek is not a marquee X Games athlete, and women’s motocross, a sport she dominates, does not enjoy much time in the limelight.
But if Fiolek could have heard the applause directed her way as she won Saturday evening’s moto X super X competition, she would have been impressed.
Fiolek, 18, who last year became the first and only deaf champion in the history of professional women’s motocross, passed Jessica Patterson entering the sixth and final lap, then pulled away and won convincingly.
“Getting added to X is huge for our sport and it’s just going to keep getting bigger and bigger, and more people will know we can ride motorcycles,” she said via sign language through her father.
“I noticed there were a lot of people here -- even deaf fans -- and they wanted to meet us, so I think they accept us.”
Fiolek was injured and couldn’t participate last year when women’s super X made its X Games debut.
When the moto X freestyle medalists walked into the media room, they noticed they’d been given the women’s super X Medals.
So somewhere the women super X riders probably carried freestyle medals.
Said Jeremy “Twitch” Stenberg, who won the freestyle silver: “I’m going to go find that chick and trade her.”
Bestwick is best again
Jamie Bestwick was nearly perfect, scoring 98 out of 100 points, in winning the BMX freestyle vert final for the third consecutive year.
Remarkably, the 37-year-old veteran earned that score after only two of three runs.
Said bronze medalist Simon Tabron: “Really from that point, unless Moses appeared next to the ramp and parted the Red Sea or performed some crazy miracle, we were all competing for second place.”
Not so fast
Diogo Canina won gold in the BMX Freestyle Park final. And then he didn’t.
The announcer declared Canina the winner one round too early. Canina had to climb down from the shoulders of a friend and fetch his helmet, which he had tossed in celebration, and resume riding.
“I told him, instead of celebrating, you should’ve ran and cashed the check,” said Scotty Cranmer, who edged Canina, 132-131.
No vert surprise
Pierre-Luc Gagnon of Carlsbad won the skateboard vert men’s final, and that was about as surprising as action sports fans walking around the Home Depot Center with tattoos, especially without Shaun White in the lineup.
White, who also is a snowboarder, is training for the Winter Olympics.
Bucky Lasek and Andy Macdonald were second and third, respectively.
Freestyle motocross rider Todd Potter, on what it feels like to land a dangerously good trick: “What it feels like is a bunch of endorphins releasing in your brain. It’s just a fun feeling. I’ve never really done drugs, but I guess that’s what people get out of it, is that same euphoria.”
at the Home Depot Center: 10:30 a.m., skateboard street high school; 12:30 p.m., skateboard park; 1:30 p.m., rally car racing super special; 2 p.m., skateboard park legends.
More on these games
Comprehensive coverage of events at the Home Depot Center and Staples Center.