Looking Up to BMX's Bestwick

By Sonny Amato
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, August 17, 2007

Given the fact that Jamie Bestwick has made a living launching himself multiple stories into the air, the world's best BMX vert rider has a strange admission: He's scared of heights.

Bestwick headed into last night's Vans Invitational in Portland, Ore., with the Dew Tour series points lead, an X Games gold medal and the admiration of everyone in his sport. But when a TV crew took Bestwick up in a crane to overlook a recent event setup, he freaked.

"I told them I wanted down immediately," he said. "When I get up that high, I start thinking about it . . . and I get frightened. But get me up there on a bike, and I'm in control. I'm good." Bestwick's competitors will quickly point out that "good" and "in control" are understatements.

At the X Games earlier this month, Bestwick landed every big trick to take home the gold medal. That comes a year after neck surgery that involved fusing three vertebrae together.

The 36-year-old native of Nottingham, England, is the class of the old guard of vert riders and, with a young set of riders looking to dethrone him, wears a huge target on his back.

"He's one of the most amazing bike riders on the face of the earth," said competitor and training partner Steven McCann. "I talk all kind of trash because we're friends, but most guys would be crazy to talk trash to Jamie." Since Bestwick edged out Dave Mirra at the 2000 X Games, he's been the man to beat. In 2005, he took BMX vert's version of the Grand Slam with wins at the X Games, Gravity Games, LG Manchester and the four Dew stops he entered.

Bestwick's skill cannot be measured at competitions, McCann said. At Camp Woodward in Pennsylvania, he has amassed an arsenal that he has yet to unveil.

"He's got backups to backups to backups to backups for everything his competitors will try," McCann said. "If you want to see some good stuff, just wait for Jamie to be in second place."

At his current pace, fans might be waiting awhile. Bestwick came out gunning at the X Games with a stellar first run that finished with a whip leading directly into an opposite double tail whip -- the first time that the combination has been landed in competition.

He's been reinvigorated and challenged by a crop of new BMX vert athletes. Unlike a lot of athletes from other sports, Bestwick believes it's his duty to raise his competitors' games, too.

Bestwick predicts a slow and steady growth of action sports and hopes stops like this weekend are as anticipated as big football or baseball games.

"I won't be riding a bike until I'm 90," he said. "But I hope to kick back and watch them on television and saying, 'Look at what these kids are doing now!' "

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