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Originally published Friday, May 3, 2013 at 1:43 PM

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Villopoto joins select company with 3rd title

Ryan Villopoto wrapped up his place in history last weekend in Salt Lake City, becoming the fourth rider to win three straight Supercross titles.

AP Sports Writer

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Ryan Villopoto wrapped up his place in history last weekend in Salt Lake City, becoming the fourth rider to win three straight Supercross titles.

There's one more race left in the season, Saturday in Las Vegas, but motocross' rising star isn't about to let off the throttle.

Not in this sport, not after what happened last year.

"There's no time to sit back at what just happened," Villopoto said. "That's just the nature of our sport. That's not the greatest way to go about it, but that's just the way it is at this point."

Villopoto knows it all too well.

Coming off one of the most successful seasons in motocross history, he had wrapped up last year's Supercross title with four races left, the earliest any rider had ever clinched the title in the sport's 39-year history.

Three weeks after winning his second straight championship, Villopoto headed to Seattle for a race in his home state. But instead of celebrating with his family and friends, the Poulsbo, Wash., native hobbled off the course after a crash left him with a torn left ACL.

The injury knocked Villopoto out for the remainder of the Supercross season and wiped out his entire outdoor season.

The 24-year-old, like most riders on the circuit, had been through his share of injuries over the span of his short career, including a horrific wreck in 2010 that left him with two broken bones in his right leg.

But the thing about a torn ACL is that it isn't as difficult to come back from for motocross riders. It's not easy by any means and certainly painful, but in a sport where a catastrophic injury could come on the next jump or corner, a torn knee ligament isn't much more than an occupational hazard at this point.

"With the technology that the doctors have, it's pretty easy to fix, really not a problem at all," Villopoto said. "They don't even keep you overnight, kind of a minor surgery."

Villopoto came back quickly, at least in the scope of a torn ACL recovery.

He was walking - carefully, of course - right after the surgery and was riding his bike within a week. Villopoto started riding his dirt bike less than four months after surgery and had himself ready for the start of the 2013 Supercross season.

It didn't start off too well and it had nothing to do with his knee.

Struggling with his bike's setup, Villopoto opened the season finishing 16th at Anaheim, Calif., to dig himself a big hole right out of the gate. He won at the second Anaheim race and in Oakland, Calif., but followed with an eighth at Anaheim III and sixth at San Diego.

"It was kind of up and down," Villopoto said. "I got a win not too late in the season, pretty early, but it was still up and down."

It wasn't until the race at Cowboys Stadium in Texas that Villopoto found a groove.

He won there, finished second the next week in Atlanta, then reeled off five straight wins, including at St. Louis, site of his 2010 accident. Villopoto finished no worse than second over the final 10 races and closed out the season with a win in Utah to become the fifth rider to win three Supercross titles. He also joins Jeremy McGrath, Ricky Carmichael and Bob Hannah as the only riders to win three straight.

"It's a pretty big deal," Villopoto said. "My goal coming into the season was just to try to defend it, not necessarily win three in a row. You won't get a sense of it until later in your career."

So when Villopoto crossed the finish line to clinch his third straight title last week, there was joy, to be sure, but it didn't last long.

Not with one more race still to go.

"It was just glad it was over so we could go to Vegas without all the stress and the pressure of having to come back for the race. Even though I had a good points lead, things can happen."

He certainly knows what he's talking about.

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