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Parade to welcome home Olympic hero

Jon Maletz
Jason Smith talks to reporters after finishing sixth in the inaugural Olympic boardercross event in Bardonechhia, Italy, on Thursday. Smith said if anyone was to take gold in the event besides himself, he would have hoped it would be his teammate, Seth Wescott, who did in fact win the gold medal.
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The silence overwhelmed Basalt’s Jason Smith as he stood on his board, anxiously waiting for the starting gate to drop in his first Olympics boardercross race.There were no encouraging words from the friends who join Smith at the top of most courses; strict rules denied them access. The rider had only his coach by his side – and the thoughts that raced through his head.Two minutes before the official start, a TV cameraman framed Smith in his lens. The 24-year-old then heard the fans crowding the bottom of the 2,297-foot course erupt. “I don’t know if the fans saw me or the guy next to me on the big screen, but I could hear them cheering,” Smith said Thursday. “I felt like I was a football player. I couldn’t wait to get to the bottom so I could hear it louder.”Smith was elated when he came to a stop at the finish and spotted the faces of his parents, siblings and relatives. He won his first two heats but faltered in the third. He wound up sixth – the second-best American finish behind gold-medal winner Seth Wescott. The two were roommates at the Olympic Village in Bardonecchia, Italy.

It was the same emotion he experienced just five days earlier, when he walked through the Turin Olympic Stadium’s tunnel alongside his American teammates.”It really takes your breath away,” he said. “The whole crowd and the world is watching you. I had to step back for a moment and take it all in.”Smith will have at least one more day to savor the Olympic moment. Basalt, which is hosting a parade in Smith’s honor at 4 p.m. today, is raring to welcome home its hero. Smith, clad in his Olympics garb, will ride down Midland Avenue in a convertible escorted by local police, said Dick Merritt, chairman of the Basalt Emergency Management Committee. Fans lining the streets will wave American flags. Merritt has known Smith since Smith was 4 hours old, he said. He watched Smith grow up and hone his skills on the slopes of Highlands, where Merritt and Smith’s father were mountain vice presidents.He watched Smith compete with the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club and cheered him on at the X Games. Merritt grinned when he talked about Smith and Wescott’s two-page spread in a recent copy of Newsweek.

“We’re a small town, but we produced a world-class athlete,” Merritt said. “I have been watching him for a long time. He has always been a true sportsman.” AVSC snowboarders and a Marine Corps color guard will accompany Smith in today’s parade, Merritt said. Smith will pose for photos and sign autographs at Town Center Booksellers after he receives a town proclamation from Mayor Leroy Duroux.”I heard about it a little over a week ago, and I’m excited, but almost a little embarrassed,” Smith said of the parade. “It’s great to give back to the community that brought me up. I love it here.”For three days after his Feb. 16 Olympic races, Smith supported his female boardercross counterparts and watched a freestyle aerials competition for the first time. He mingled with athletes from across the country in the Olympic Village and sampled the pizza in Turin. He said he was eager to return to the States, however, and cut his Olympic stay short. Smith said he needed some time for himself after a whirlwind month of high-stress competition, media attention and world travel.

He has recently been training at Steamboat, readying himself for two World Cup competitions later this month in Lake Placid, N.Y., and Japan. He plans to leave Colorado on Tuesday.”I had so much on my mind before the Olympics, and I needed some time to recharge my batteries and have some fun while I can,” Smith said. “I gained a lot of confidence at the Olympics, and I’m feeling strong.”Smith said he wasn’t disappointed by how events unfolded. He is already talking about Vancouver in 2010. Smith cherished the Olympic memories he collected in Italy. He relishes the chance to share his experience with the public today. “I walk away with such an amazing experience, he said. “I was proud to represent my country and my town. It was one of the greatest moments in my life.”Jon Maletz’s e-mail address is jmaletz@aspentimes.com


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