Tuesday’s Sochi roundup: Bronze for U.S. in snowboard cross
Deibold grabs bronze in snowboard cross, behind French, Russian riders
ROSA KHUTOR, Russia – During the Vancouver Olympics four years ago, Alex Deibold was working as a wax technician for the U.S. Snowboard Team. He hadn’t qualified to ride at the Games, but he wanted to be there to help his teammates.
Now, he’s an Olympic medalist, finishing ahead of more decorated U.S. riders to take the bronze medal on Tuesday in the men’s snowboard cross.
On a rainy, sometimes foggy day at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, he was one of the few riders who emerged unscathed from myriad crashes and falls. Joining him on the 2014 Olympic podium were Pierre Vaultier of France, who won that nation’s first-ever gold medal in snowboarding, and for the home team, silver medalist Nikolay Olyunin of Russia. His was the first snowboard medal for a Russian male.
One of the most serious accidents of the day involved Italian rider and World Cup leader Omar Visintin, who was in the lead in his semifinal run when he tangled with the rider behind him and crashed out of the race. He was taken off the course on a stretcher.
The men’s snowboard cross event was originally scheduled for Monday, but heavy fog caused officials to postpone it. Visibility had improved at the beginning of Tuesday’s racing but as the morning progressed the fog started to cover the course and it became harder to see, although just enough visibility remained to run the finals.
Deibold and the other medalists said they weren’t terribly bothered by the conditions. “I’ve always excelled at adverse conditions,” Deibold said. “I’ve been snowboarding since I was a little kid and it was always as many runs as you could get in the freezing cold or the rain or the slush. My love for snowboarding is such that you just have to embrace what nature throws at you.”
“It’s kind of hard to put this stuff into words,” Deibold said in the post-race press conference. “I don’t know if you know this but in Vancouver four years ago I was a wax tech for my teammates. I competed that year but my results weren’t good enough. It was grueling work but a situation that I’m grateful for. I thought about it a lot. I’ve gone through surgeries and had a lot of low points. I remember what it was like to be there. So to be here and wrap the flag around myself, all that stuff doesn’t seem like a damn thing.”
Deibold barely made it through the earlier rounds to reach the six-man big final, while his fellow medalists were winning all their heats. In a format where only the top three advance, Deibold was just barely good enough in every instance: third in the 1/8 final, third in the quarterfinal, and third in the semifinal, where it took a photo finish to give him the last spot in the final over teammate Trevor Jacob. He then finished third, again, in the final, which this time was good for a bronze medal.
He did all this on a day when his better-known teammates struggled. In any event that didn’t have the seeding run that competitors are used to, Nick Baumgartner and Nate Holland, both former X Games snowboard cross winners and both medalists in the discipline at FIS world championship events, didn’t make it out of the 1/8 final; both finished fourth in their heats. And Deibold and Trevor Jacob bumped in their semifinal, with both sliding across the finish slightly out of control, Diebold just barely ahead.
“Nate’s been my roommate,” Deibold said of Holland, “and I’ve been taking a lot of notes from him. He is and will be one of greatest snowboard cross riders in history. He has won more World Cups than any American and more X Games than anyone can count. He’s made the same sacrifices I have. There are points where it’s disappointing to see a teammate go out. But today I just focused on myself and my own snowboarding.”
Right in front of him in the big final, Vaultier and Olyunin were waging an intense battle for the lead. The Russian rider had been fast all day, getting out front and staying there. Several times in the final, he looked like he was about to pass Vaultier, but the French rider held him off, sometimes quite literally, and opened up a small lead as the riders hit the end of the course and headed off the final jump.
“That was probably tougher than I thought,” said Vaultier. “I was leading in my run, I did not even hear him at the back, which means he was going really, really fast, because usually I hear the guys behind me. That was for me a (lucky) chance not to meet him before the finals. I saw him once on TV at the start and I thought, ‘Wow he’s fast, that’s going to be tough.’ ”
Olyunin was asked after the race whether he thinks of himself as a pioneer in Russian snowboarding. “Pioneer? Well I can’t say. I’m always ready, that’s the motto for the Russian pioneers,” he said. “I just recently left junior competitions, I’m only 22. I still believe I’m quite young but I did a lot of work and I made a lot of sacrifices. I lived away from home for months at a time, I trained in Switzerland and Austria. … I proved to the whole of Russia that snowboard does exist in Russia and there are snowboard masters here. So thanks to Russia.”
Of his competitor Vaultier, Olyunin said, “I think he’s a great rider and he deserves this,” and then joked, “But I will never forgive him for it!”
Norway takes gold and silver in nordic combined
KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia – Joergen Graabak and teammate Magnus Hovdal Moan held off the pack in a furious finish to claim the gold and silver medals for Norway in the large hill/10km nordic combined event on Tuesday at the RusSki Gorki Ski Jumping Center.
In a race run in pouring rain and warm temperatures, Fabian Riessle of Germany took the bronze, just one second behind Moan and half a second ahead of his teammate, Bjoern Kircheisen.
Graabak, who was left off Norway’s team for the normal hill event a week ago, took advantage of his opportunity in the large hill competition. In sixth after the jump, he started 42 seconds behind, but was in the lead group before the end of the first 2.5km lap. He said he couldn’t really describe the feeling of crossing the line as a gold medalist. “It’s a bit surreal,” he said. “I will need time to enjoy the moment.”
Germany’s Eric Frenzel, who won the normal hill competition earlier in the Games, held an eight second lead after winning the ski jumping phase handily. But he said the effects of a virus he has been suffering with proved too much in the 10km, and he finished in 10th place.
For the U.S. team, the Brothers Fletcher led the way, with Taylor in 20th and Bryan in 22nd. Bill Demong, gold medalist in this event at the Vancouver Olympics in 2010, finished 31st, and Todd Lodwick took a jump off the big hill in preparation for the team event on Thursday, but did not ski the cross-country race. He’s still rehabbing a shoulder he injured in a crash in January.
Demong was left scratching his head after a poor jumping round left him impossibly far back starting the 10km race. “I swear I woke up feeling like today was the day,” he said after the race, “and right up until I landed that first (competition) jump, I didn’t see anything coming. I just feel great. It’s kind of devastating really. It was my shortest jump in the last few days by 10 meters. Nothing felt that bad, nothing looked that bad, and the coaches were not super sure what happened. That’s the problem, I think I’m old enough and wise enough to be able to have expectations and follow through on them. Then a day like today happens and kind of throws you for a loop. I swear I felt the same tingle today that I felt in Vancouver, so I need to go figure out what did go wrong today.”
Taylor Branch wound up with the sixth fastest 10km time, but started in a hole after finishing 35th in the jumping portion. “I was happy with the race. I picked up the tempo on each lap and felt really good. … I’m looking forward to the team event (on Thursday). I think we have a strong team. We may not be showing it on the results in the individual comps, but a little spirit comes into these team comps and everyone pulls out something a little bit extra. I think it’s going to be special when we come to this and we’ll let it happen.”
Norway’s Moan felt lucky to get the silver – his third Olympic medal and second of these Games – after two German skiers got tangled up near the very end of the race on one of the stadium switchbacks. “Honestly, on the last hill I didn’t feel that I had the same legs as usual, and I’m quite lucky that the two Germans fell,” he said. “I can’t remember having worked so much (in a race). I was skiing super-fast in the two first laps, I had amazing skis. I was hoping that the others would catch up (and take the lead for a while), but it didn’t happen. … I’m happy to be back on the podium after 2006 (when he won silver and bronze medals in Torino). This means that I still have something to do in this game.”
The 1-2 finish was the first for Norway in an Olympic nordic combined event in 78 years. Oddbjorn Hagen and Olaf Hoffsbakken won gold and silver in the normal hill/10km event in 1936. Over the years, Norway has been the most successful country in nordic combined, with 12 gold medals, but this was the first since 1998, when it won the team event and Bjarte Engen Vik took the individual event.
“It’s absolutely awesome,” said bronze medalist Riessle. “It was an amazing race and I’m so happy. It’s a big dream come true. It was so close. There were so many people on the last lap. … It’s a big fairy tale for me. It was a great day even though it rained cats and dogs. … It was very cool race today.”
Coming up tomorrow:
(Sochi time; subtract nine hours for EST)
Alpine. Men’s giant slalom, one of the centerpieces of the Winter Olympics since it was added to the program at the Oslo Games in 1952, takes place Wednesday at the Rosa Khutor Alpine Center. Ted Ligety, one of the favorites in the event, leads the U.S. team. Ligety starts seventh in the first run, scheduled for 11 a.m. Also skiing for the U.S. are Bode Miller (starting 16th), Tim Jitloff (22nd) and Jared Goldberg (40th). Philip Brown (32nd), Trevor Philp (38th) and Pridy Morgan (48th) will represent Canada in the race, which has 109 skiers on the start list, by far the most of any alpine race so far in these Games.
Cross-country. The men’s and women’s team sprints will be held Wednesday afternoon at the Laura Cross-Country and Biathlon Center. For the women, the semifinals are at 1:15 p.m. and the finals at 3:45; for the men, the semis start at 2:06 p.m., and the finals at 4:15. The U.S. women’s team, led by Kikkan Randall, won a bronze medal in the team sprint at the 2013 World Championships, and has been on the podium twice in the past two World Cup seasons, including its first-ever podium finish at Gallivare, Sweden, in November 21012.
Snowboard. Men’s and women’s parallel giant slalom races are on tap at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park. For the men, qualifying is at 9:15 a.m., the 1/8 final at 1 p.m., quarters at 1:24, semis at 1:37, and finals at 1:44. For the women, qualifying is at 10:15, 1/8 final at 1:55 p.m., quarters at 2:19 p.m., semis at 2:35 p.m., and finals at 2:43 p.m.