Holland wins gold, looks to Olympics
The Aspen Times
Get set, Italy.
Saturday’s Winter X Games men’s boardercross final showcased what the world will see next month when the event debuts at the Olympics, as Nate Holland of Encinitis, Calif., bested a field of five fellow Olympians to win the gold. Holland swooped past U.S. Snowboarding teammate Seth Westcott midway down the course, then held off past Switzerland’s Marco Huser and Jayson Hale of Sugarbowl, Calif.
“I’m just fired up to have a gold medal right now,” Holland said after win. “I’m ready to go to Torino and rock the world.”
Basalt local Jason Smith, the fourth member of the American men’s team set to compete next month in Bardonecchia, Italy, failed to make the final after crashing hard in the third quarterfinal heat. Smith was hit by Jonathan Cheever of Park City, Utah, after coming off the third jump on the course and caught his heelside edge when Cheever clipped his board after landing. He walked away without serious injury, but was disappointed with his result after qualifying with the third-fastest time Friday.
“It’s tough, just because I was riding so well,” Smith said. “I’m definitely bummed, but it’s one of the things you can’t get too mad about because it wasn’t my fault. … I had the lane choice I wanted, and we were just real tight coming into the first three features before it spread out and there was just some contact in there.”
Cheever was apologetic at the bottom of course when asked about the crash.
“It seriously happened so fast, it was hard to see what was going on,” he said. “Nothing was intentional, that’s for sure.”
Drew Neilson of Vernon, British Columbia, was fifth, and Austria’s Mario Fuchs was sixth, trailing Neilson by one board length.
Westcott, a five-time Winter X Games medalist (three silver, two bronze), was close to another medal in his ninth appearance, but found himself in fourth after Hale and Huser charged past him on a tight section near the bottom.
Hale won his first Winter X Games medal in this third appearance, after finishing a disappointing 18th last year.
While the inaugural Olympic boardercross competition for men will look a little different, with heats of four and a course that likely won’t feature as many jumps, Saturday’s final was a great confidence builder, Hale said.
“It was probably one of the hardest finals I’ve ever been in,” he said. “It definitely builds confidence to see that my board is running and I’m riding well and my joints are feeling good. I just came off a third at the World Cup, now I’m third here and I plan on changing my (medal) color on the next one.”
Added Huser: “It’s really, really good to have a race like this before the Olympics. It’s a great feeling.”
Holland, who was the No. 1 qualifier for the Olympics among his American teammates, predicted that some of the same names from Saturday’s final will show up in the four-rider final next month in Bardonecchia.
“It could very well be the field that’s going to be in it,” he said. “To be able to ride that well, and to walk away from this race fully healthy, I’m fired up.”
Smith hopes otherwise.
“I was bummed to not be in there with those guys, but definitely glad to see them all in there,” Smith said. “Who knows? I don’t know if this will necessarily be a preview for the Olympics, just because it’s a totally different course that we’re going to see.”
Nate Peterson’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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