- Devon O'Neil, Writer, Action Sports
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Defending champion Matt Buyten shattered an 11-year-old record in Moto X Step Up on Thursday, claiming the first gold medal of X Games 17 by clearing a bar set 37 feet off the dirt at Staples Center. It was the fourth gold medal in Step Up for Buyten, who eclipsed Tommy Clowers' record of 35 feet set at the event's debut in 2000.
Four of the six riders cleared 35 feet, 6 inches, but Brian Deegan and Myles Richmond failed to get over the 36-foot, 6-inch mark, then Renner missed twice at 37 feet. After his winning jump, which came on his first attempt, Buyten laid down on his back then turned to his knees and pounded the dirt with both fists. The 31-year-old's victory came at a height that was a whopping three and a half feet higher than last year's winning height, when he outlasted Renner in overtime.
"I was surprised," Buyten said of the winning height. "I figured people would start dropping at 31 or 32 feet and the next thing I knew we were at 35 and 36 and everybody was still in. I was like, 'Well, this is quite the situation.'" Todd Potter was the first rider eliminated, failing to clear the bar at 34 feet, 6 inches. Soon after that, Deegan became the first rider in X Games history to clear 35 feet. The primary reason for the higher performances, according to the riders, was a landing ramp that was built three feet above the 2010 height (16 feet instead of 13 feet), thus softening the impact.
Even with three prior gold medals, Thursday's victory was special for Buyten, a lanky but gritty rider known for overcoming injuries throughout his career. He sprained his wrist six weeks ago then wrenched his ankle two weeks prior to X.
"My confidence was at an ll- time low," he said. "You can't even explain the pressure. I was shaking like a little sissy down there. That was scary, and it was fun only after I landed."