Much like track and field, the X Games is a loosely knit conglomeration of events. And the Moto X Step Up competition is the equivalent of the pole vault.
But instead of slashing down a runway like a sprinter and vaulting into the air on a fiberglass pole, Moto X Step Up riders rocket up a dirt ramp on a motorcycle and try to clear a bar.
Ronnie Renner, a River Ridge High graduate, knows there are similarities between the events. To prepare for last year's X Games, Renner worked with Chelsea Johnson, the 2009 silver medalist in the pole vault at the world championships. They shared tips on training for big meets and shot a YouTube video that has generated buzz.
Renner, who won the X Games Step Up title in 2007 and tied for first in '09, finished second last year to Matt Buyten, who won by a foot with a height of 331/2 feet. Renner, 34, also has competed in Moto X Speed and Style, but he is dropping that event to concentrate on Step Up for this year's X Games, which start today in Los Angeles.
"This is the big daddy for me," Renner said of Step Up.
For years Renner and Buyten have dueled in their signature event. Buyten has won X Games gold in Step Up three times (2003, '06, '10). Last year their competition went into overtime.
"We have had quite a few squareoffs, and I have a feeling more is to come," Renner said.
Before Renner was a jumper, he was a racer. He began learning his craft when he was 4 on the challenging dirt obstacle course at Dade City Raceway, a small-town track known for producing big-time motocross pros. Ricky Carmichael and James "Bubba" Stewart used to dust rivals at the Dade City track on the amateur circuit. So did Travis Pastrana, one of the X Games' most decorated athletes.
After spinning tires at Dade City, Renner learned to jump at the Croom Motorcycle Area in the Withlacoochee State Forest near Brooksville. He started to get serious about motocross when he was 16. He was a strong racer but realized he could make more money in freestyle, so he stopped racing and began jumping full time at 23.
Since then he's been trying to reach new heights.
In 2009 Renner set a freestyle motocross world record for biggest air off a quarter pipe, clearing 63 feet, 5 inches on a jump in Chicago.
Renner has moved away from competitive jumping and is trying to revive free riding, in which riders find natural jumps in hills and sand dunes. He has a free riding tour sponsored by Red Bull.
"I'm kind of selfishly carving my own path," Renner said. "I'm not starting a revolution. I'm just finding a way to do what I want on my motorcycle."
Still, he finds time for his main event at the X Games.
Renner trains at a test track for the event, though the dirt is drier and slicker at the X Games.
"You can practice, but as soon as the event begins, everyone goes way higher than they would in a practice," Renner said.
So Renner tries to gain any edge he can, even if it means picking up tips from a pole vaulter.