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Looking for gold in Air

Medford's Caleb Wyatt set to compete in X Games IX in Los Angeles, where he'll fly in freestyle motocross' Big Air event

His first summer X Games on the horizon, Caleb Wyatt would rather not have an X-factor to worry about.

A troublesome left hand, however, can do little to subdue the Medford native's excitement as he prepares for the Aug. 17 freestyle motocross Big Air competition at Los Angeles' Staples Center.

He hopes to improve upon the bronze medal he won in the same event at Winter X Games VII ' that's right, dirt bikes in the snow ' in Aspen, Colo., last winter.

— Any of the X Games is a main deal to be at, says Wyatt, whose schedule is stocked year-round with demos and promotional tours. (Winning gold) is my goal. But I'm only going in there about 60 percent healthy.

After bursting onto the extreme-sports map in the spring of 2002 by becoming the first dirt-bike rider to land a back flip and successfully ride away ' my little spot in history, he calls it ' Wyatt had plans to pull off a body varial at X Games IX. That trick would have him do a flip and land back on his bike, rather than taking the bike along for the ride.

Those designs have been put somewhat in doubt by his ailing left hand, which was first injured while training for last summer's X Games.

Don't hold your breath (for the body varial), says Wyatt, 27, who missed X Games VIII because of the injury, finally had surgery a few months ago and just got a cast removed within the last couple weeks. My body's real weak from not riding. ... I shouldn't even be on a motorcycle yet.

Wyatt's plans to practice at sand dunes along the Southern Oregon coast Thursday were dashed by hauling problems.

He left Friday for LA, where he'll get in a couple practice sessions along with the partying expected of an extreme athlete. One function he knows he won't miss is Red Bull's bash at the Playboy mansion, although he's quick to point out his wife, Tina, will likely be accompanying him.

In the Big Air competition, Wyatt will take on 15 other riders, including summer and winter gold-medalist Mike Metzger. Each contestant gets three attempts to do his best trick while jumping off a ramp and over a gap of about 80 feet.

Tricks never done before ' like the body varial ' are likely to at least be tried.

Big Air will be televised in the same 9-11 p.m. range on ESPN2 Aug. 19, ESPN Aug. 20 and the finals Aug. 21 on ESPN.

Everybody at first thought, 'Well what the hell can you do on a motorcycle? This sport's not gonna last long,' says Wyatt, whose back flip has now been mimicked by a handful of other riders. I'm told now it's the fastest growing sport in America.

I like to watch gymnastics for ideas, especially the high bars for guys. A lot of those tricks, they have not even a 10th of as much time as we do, yet they're pulling off flips and stuff. You've gotta go with what you think's possible.

Wyatt ' who's down from 185 to 170 pounds on his 5-foot-8 frame following surgery ' believes his newest tricks will be crafted on a piece of property recently purchased in Shady Cove.

My resources have been pretty slim, says Wyatt, who plans to build a course complete with a safety jump on that land. No excuses any more.

Wyatt's also starring in a film depicting the evolution of the back flip in freestyle motocross. Flipped Out premiers Tuesday in Southern California.

Then, he's got gold to jump for, lame limb or not.

It's gonna be pretty off the hook, Wyatt says.

In his sport, he's not kidding.

Medford?s Caleb Wyatt performs a backflip in the freestyle motocross at Winter X Games VII last February. Wyatt, who made history by becoming the first dirt-bike rider to land a back flip and successfully ride away, earned a bronze at the event. He will