American Seth Wescott defends Olympic snowboard cross gold medal in Vancouver

Enjoy an up close and personal look at the action in Canada.
By Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 16, 2010

WEST VANCOUVER, B.C. -- Sure, he won the last gold Olympic medal in snowboard cross, but Seth Wescott, 33, had been largely forgotten this season. He had been injured. He had not competed well. He entered the Olympics ranked ninth in the world. The talk surrounded a Frenchman, an Austrian, a pair of rising Americans.

But Wescott? He was the wild card. The old guy. Who knew what he would bring?

He brought, it seemed, everything he had learned in his long career. Wescott patiently moved from dead last to first place in a jaw-dropping Olympic snowboard cross final Monday. The race featured a spin-out by more highly regarded U.S. teammate Nate Holland, a dominant start by Canadian Mike Robertson, and a savvy move by Wescott to overtake Robertson late.

Wescott threw his arms in the air even before his snowboard slid over the finish line just inches ahead of Robertson's, elated at his stunning return to glory. He has now won the only two gold medals awarded in his sport since it debuted at the 2006 Winter Games in Turin. Robertson settled for silver, and France's Tony Ramoin got the bronze.

"It was amazing to do it the first time," Wescott said. But "to have had the ups and downs of the last four years -- shattering my arm, not necessarily having motivation all of the time -- it's amazing to stand on this stage and do it."

The victory kept the United States in the lead of the overall medal count with eight, and it concluded Wescott's comeback from a broken forearm in 2007 and a painful pelvis injury in December. It also offered the U.S. team some redemption on an afternoon three other Americans struggled.

In one of the most unpredictable sports in the Olympics, Nick Baumgartner and Graham Watanabe failed to advance out of the round of 16, and Holland, who beat Wescott in the recent Winter X Games snowboard cross final, lost control early in the final and finished fourth.

The Canadian crowd at the bottom of the mountain reacted with glee when the giant video screen showed Holland's mishap, which allowed Robertson to take a huge lead. But Wescott gained speed on straightaways between turns four and five, and six and seven, then passed Robertson when he came up short on a jump low on the course.

"I thought I was in control, for sure," Robertson said.

Wescott had figured he didn't need a miracle; he merely needed to keep his head and use it. He counted on gaining ground gradually and then making a move.

"It's crazy," Robertson said. "He's a big-event rider. He knows how to turn it on and he did today."

Said Watanabe: "For him to be that controlled from so far behind shows his focus and determination. . . . Seth picks and chooses when he wants to charge."

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