After a two-hour street-course blitz in which he made some of the most difficult maneuvers look easy, showing up some of the world's best skateboarders in the process, Paul Rodriguez said he had a good feeling inside.
"But on the outside, physically, I feel like I want to go lay down or something," he added, while surrounded by autograph-seekers outside Staples Center.
Then came the announcement most knew was coming. Rodriguez on Thursday was presented with the first gold medal at this year's X Games, thus earning bragging rights as arguably the world's best street skater. Andrew Reynolds of Hollywood was second; Bastien Salabanzi of Barcelona, Spain, was third.
"I'm dumbfounded," Rodriguez said. "I haven't actually won a contest since I was 13, and it was just an amateur contest. To win now and to nonetheless have it be the X Games.... I can't even explain how I feel other than to say I'm dumbfounded."
Rodriguez, 19, a Chatsworth pro whose strengths were suited to the natural street-type terrain set up outside Staples Center, won the bronze medal on the street course in 2003. On Thursday, he started slowly but gained momentum over a course that included steps, concrete walls and barriers, ramps, handrails, and benches.
A lengthy succession of successful maneuvers -- which included lots of kickflips, tail and nose slides -- made him the clear leader going into the final portion of the competition, a 15-minute expression session on a stairway handrail.
That was when his father, comedian-actor Paul Rodriguez, got especially nervous. "I knew that if he didn't land right on the rail, I'd never be a grandfather -- and I want to be a grandfather," he said, casting a proud look his son's way.
With his triumph, and a final score of 90.25, Rodriguez earned $50,000.
There will be no repeat medal performance for Ryan Sheckler, 14, the second-year pro from San Clemente, who surprised some of his older peers by winning the gold last year in the skate park competition (there are only street, vert and big-air competitions this year).
Sheckler was ninth in a field of 11 and was never able to get anything going.
Montreal's Pierre-Luc Gagnon used a variety of difficult maneuvers to score a 93.66 on his first of three runs in the vert competition, leaving his nine adversaries with no choice but to try more difficult routines in hopes of attaining a higher score. None were able to do so as the event came down to the night's final run.
There stood Bucky Lasek, and into the ramp he went, feeling so charged up he felt as though "there was a pit bull behind me." The 31-year-old from Carlsbad executed all of his high-flying, twisting maneuvers -- finishing up with his signature frontside heel-flip gay twist -- to register a score of 95.00 and emerge triumphant.
It was his fourth X Games gold medal in the vert competition -- the most of any skateboarder.
"If there wasn't so many people here I would have cried," Lasek said afterward. " I feel like the luckiest person in the world."
Gagnon, winner of the vert and best trick competitions in 2002, said he didn't feel too unlucky. "Bucky did it so good, and I'm happy for him," he said.
The women's street finals are today, and the women's vert finals and the men's vert best trick finals are Saturday. The big-air finals are Sunday.