After a gold and silver in Torino, the U.S. Olympic Snowboardcross Team might well have a target on its back at Cypress Mountain. But so does everybody else in the daring sport that pits four boarders against each other on an obstacle-laden battle to the bottom.
“I don’t think it really matters,” reigning Olympic men’s champion Seth Wescott (Sugarloaf, ME) said at an arrival press conference Wednesday. “We race head-to-head every time we compete.”
Wescott, fully recovered from an injury sustained after overshooting a jump in Telluride last December, was nipping at the heels of Nate Holland (Squaw Valley, CA) at the X Games in Aspen last week before his American teammate claimed his fifth X Games gold medal.
“It just adds a little fire to me,” Holland said. “I’m super fired up to be at my second Olympics and to have a big result two weeks prior is definitely motivating.
“When I step into the gate and I look around and see these guys, I know that these guys are definitely going to give me a run for my money as much, if not better, than any other teams out there.”
Holland fell during Wescott’s star turn in 2006, but he’s feeling good strong into Vancouver.
“I’m just going to get out there on the course and lay it down as hard as I can and leave my heart out on the course and see where I end up,” Holland said.
2006 silver medalist Lindsey Jacobellis (Stratton Mountain, VT) knows firsthand how unpredictable the sport of snowboardcross can be, so she’s keeping a level head despite the glare of the big lights.
“I pretty much approach every race the same way. I bring the same amount of passion and energy into every race,” Jacobellis said. “I want to go out there and win every time. I know that doesn’t happen, but I know I have the ability and I’m just going to try my best. It’s a new year, it’s a new day, and it’s going to be my mom’s birthday, so hopefully I’ll get her a good present.
Jacobellis is joined by two Olympic newcomers in serious contention: 17-year-old Faye Gulini (Salt Lake City) and Callan Chythlook-Sifsof (Girdwood, AK), the first native Alaskan in the Olympic Games.
“It’s also nice having girls on the team now,” said Jacobellis. “Four years ago, when I made the team, I was all by myself. I was just chilling up at the top. Everyone’s doing their pep talks, and I’m just kicking the snow, looking at my snowboard.”
Speaking of snow, Wescott heard a course report from one of the Canadian coaches who conducted test runs Tuesday night, and he was very encouraged.
“It seems like VANOC and the IOC are going out of their way to pull it off,” he said. “We’ve all been in other parts of the country and seen the news reports that they’re trucking and flying snow in, so it’s good to hear from people on our side of the sport that the venue’s coming together well.”
Wescott and Holland will have to endure stiff competition from their own teammates.??World Championship bronze medalist Nick Baumgartner (Iron River, MI) is stoked for his first Olympic experience, which he’ll share with his son.
“To see how proud my son is, it’s overwhelming, and it’s great,” said the single father. “To be able to be here for the first time with these guys, I couldn’t ask for anything better.”
X Games silver medalist Graham Watanabe (Sun Valley, ID) returns to the Olympics after a surprise shot in 2006, and he explained the experience in a way that only Watanabe can.
“It’s feeling a lot more like this is my first Olympics,” he said, before regaling the crowd with his Watanabe-brand humor. “Try to imagine Pegasus mating with a unicorn, and the creature that they birth, I somehow tame it, and ride it into the sky into the clouds and sunshine and rainbows, that’s what it feels like.”
“I don’t quite know how to follow that,” Baumgartner deadpanned.
Training starts this weekend with the men competing on Monday starting with qualifications at 1:30 p.m. PT, and the women kick things off at 11 a.m. Tuesday.