By Brittany Davis | Feb. 15, 2016, 4:04 p.m. (ET)
Jake Vedder (L) competes in the men's snowboardcross final at the Lillehammer 2016 Winter Youth Olympic Games on Feb. 15, 2016 in Lillehammer, Norway.


HAFJELL , Norway -- Making its debut at the Winter Youth Olympic Games, snowboardcross is an intense, scrappy sport that combines the high-flying tricks of halfpipe and slopestyle with the competitive spirit of racing. Riders often collide and the mental landscape can be as difficult to maneuver as the course itself, which makes strategy so important – just ask Team USA’s Jake Vedder.

“I like to be out in front and block people from passing me,” said the 17-year-old Vedder, who took up the sport at age 5. “That was the plan going into today and it worked out well.”

Very well. Having won all five of his heats and his semifinal race, Vedder cruised to the men’s snowboardcross gold medal in a closely-contested final, finishing ahead of Alex Dickson of Australia and Sebastian Pietrzykowski of Germany.

“Crossing the finish line was an emotional experience – it’s unbelievable,” said Vedder. “I’ve been working all year for this moment and to have it happen, it’s incredible. I don’t know what I’m going to do with this medal. I might not ever take it off.”

On hand to help present Vedder with his medal at Hafjell Freepark was two-time Olympic medalist and Youth Olympic Games Athlete Role Model Ross Powers, who became the first U.S. Olympic men’s snowboarding champion in 2002.

Snowboarding has been one of the fastest growing disciplines on the Olympic program, adding six events since making its Olympic debut at the Nagano Games in 1998 with men’s and women’s giant slalom and halfpipe competitions. Two more events – men’s and women’s big air – will be added in 2018. The growth is a testament to the International Olympic Committee’s commitment to attracting younger audiences and keeping youth engaged in sport worldwide – a hallmark of these Games. 

For the first time at the Winter Youth Olympic Games, live coverage is available through the IOC’s YouTube channel, along with daily on-demand coverage of the sporting action for viewers worldwide.

“It’s an intense sport, but I think it helps having it on TV because it shows how crazy and fun this sport is,” said Vedder of snowboardcross, which first appeared on the Olympic Winter Games program in 2006.

A native of Pinckney, Michigan, Vedder was the top junior snowboarder on the NorAm Cup circuit last year and competed at the 2015 FIS Junior World Championships in Yabuli, China. He is excited to represent Team USA at the FIS World Cup in South Korea next week – a test event for the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games, but said the Winter Youth Olympic Games is a particularly special event.

“The main goal is to go to the Olympics, so to have this experience as a youth is awesome and I hope it continues for all the other youths because it changes your life.”

Vedder will build on his once-in-a-lifetime experience when he returns to the course Tuesday for the new team ski-snowboardcross event. The event consists of four-person teams, with each competitor executing a single run in a relay format. The starting gate will automatically open when the previous teammate crosses the finish line.