Deibold is surprise American medalist in snowboard cross
San Jose Mercury News
KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — Nate Holland of Truckee got too high. Trevor Jacob of Mammoth Lakes went too low.
America's best two snowboard cross riders experienced mishaps on a rainy Tuesday at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park to miss a chance at winning an Olympic medal.
But Alex Deibold of Manchester, Vt., who served as a wax technician at the Vancouver Games, safely navigated the crash-inducing course to win the bronze medal by holding off France's Paul-Henri De Le Rue for third place.
Pierre Vaultier of France won the gold medal, followed by Nikolay Olyunin of Russia in a wild actions-sports event postponed the previous day because of thick fog.
Holland, seven-times X Games champion, was not in a celebratory mood after getting eliminated in the first heat by jumping too high while in good position to advance.
It was a frustrating moment, considering Holland is one of the greatest snowboard cross riders in history. He tossed his board in disgust and held in his hands to his head.
Few could blame Holland. He suffered crashes in two previous Olympics when in good position to either win a medal or advance to the final. In both cases, it was Seth Wescott who won the gold medals. But Wescott failed to qualify for Sochi because of injuries.
Tuesday was expected to be Holland's golden moment under laden sky.
The event often is called the NASCAR of snowboarding. It features four or six riders starting together atop a winding, inclined course with a series of big jumps.
"The fastest guy doesn't always necessarily win," Deibold said.
Holland usually is the fastest — except when it comes to the Olympics.
"There's something about these Olympic rings, they give me a lot of joy and drive and ambition but they cause a lot of heartbreak," he said.
Holland arrived at the souped-in mountain feeling good about his chances despite returning to competition two months ago after fracturing his shoulder.
It seemed that way as he and Jacob took a commanding lead in the first elimination round. But Holland caught Jacob's draft on a big jump midway down the run and just kept going.
"I knew I'd have to make the ground shake today on some landings," he said. "I just didn't know it was going to cause a fall."
Holland, 35, came to a sudden stop as if he fell into quicksand. Two riders blew past. Holland's chances went with them.
"It feels like your dog died, or something," said Holland, fighting back tears.
Jacob, 20, had a contrasting experience in his Olympic debut. The man who also rides dirt bikes in the Nitro Circus called the Sochi Games the "coolest" experience of his life. He wasn't feeling much pain after he said he tore ligaments in his foot and broke a bone during the semifinals.
How much pain?
"Let's say it was at about a one," Jacob said. "It's now about a five and in 15 minutes it will probably be about a 10."
U.S. snowboard officials did not immediately provide an official medical report for Jacob, who once estimated he had suffered 20 concussions. His mother Lynn Jacob said the number is closer to three.
But the devil-may-care athlete sure has had his share of crashes. It started when he jumped on his dad's skateboard at age 2. Judging from the YouTube video of him driving a motorbike off a ramp, Jacob does not know the meaning of fear.
He shrugged off an awkward landing at the finish line that allowed Deibold to advance to the final instead of Jacob. The Americans got tangled up and slid across the line together.
"We drag raced to the finish," Jacob said. I want to get a measuring tape and see how far I went."
The young boarder explained the costly error like this:
"I'm so sporadic and ADD that I forgot to suck up the the last lip. I just shot it to the moon and I got to the bottom and said, 'Hold it, Hold it.' Deibold passed me. Whatever."
Action sports stars pack their own vibe at the Olympics.
Jerry and Lynn Jacob, of Malibu, watched the semifinal run with Deibold's parents, all cheering for the Americans.
They hugged each other at the end while their sons also embraced despite the crash.
A storybook ending for Deibold. A rocking good time for Jacob.
That's snowboard cross.