PYEONGCHANG, South Korea -- Nick Baumgartner barely missed out on finally getting his moment on the Olympic podium. He placed fourth in Thursday’s men’s snowboardcross final.
France’s Pierre Vaultier took gold, Australia’s Jarryd Hughes earned silver and Spain’s Regino Hernandez the bronze.
The 36-year-old Baumgartner has been chasing that podium through three Olympic Winter Games now, but if he felt any disappointment whatsoever when he reached the bottom of the PyeongChang course, it all melted away when he turned to look at the stands.
Wearing a custom USA beanie with his dad’s name embroidered across the front, Baumgartner’s 13-year-old son, Landon, was beaming with pride.
“I stood up and I looked for him immediately. I could see on his face, he wasn’t disappointed at all,” Baumgartner said. “How can I be disappointed if my son’s stoked at his dad?”
As one of the oldest members of Team USA, Baumgartner took a bit of a beating in the heats leading up to the final.
He finished second in the quarterfinals, as did his teammate Mick Dierdorff, who finished fifth overall. Both of them competed in the second semifinal.
By the second half of that race, all but one athlete had crashed. Spain’s Regino Hernandez crossed the finish line first. The clock kept ticking away, but no other athletes followed him.
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That is until Baumgartner was seen on the horizon above the final jump. He finished over 16 seconds after Hernandez, but still managed to secure second place.
Just a couple seconds later, Dierdorff came in third.
Twenty-six-year-old Dierdorff had landed flat on his back after losing control midair after a jump. It looked like he might not be able to finish, but he remembered something he learned when he first started the sport over 14 years ago.
“That one was a really hard [crash] to get up from,” he said. “I thought for sure that was it… [but] from when I was 12 years old starting the sport, I’ve always been told the race is never over. When you get down, you get back up and finish and that paid off today for sure.”
His resiliency earned him a spot in the final alongside Baumgartner.
The final heat went much smoother, but Baumgartner had a poor start and had to make up the time by drafting. The extra speed was almost counterproductive and he fell after getting more height than he expected on a jump.
However, there wasn’t even a glimmer of regret in his eyes as he stood with his arm around his son after the race.
“I’m on top of the world,” he said. “I mean as a parent, 36 years old, still competing at the Olympics, to have my son here and to show him with my actions that you can do anything you want to do, dream big… [it’s] unbelievable.”
He has every reason to be proud. After finishing 20th in Vancouver 2010 and 25th in Sochi 2014, fourth place is certainly cause for celebration. But despite how thrilled he might be, Baumgartner’s not satisfied.
“I’ll be here in four years, absolutely,” he said. “I’m still hunting for one of those medals. This is my third Games. If I’ve got to go until I’m 100 to get a medal, I’m going to keep doing it.”
But at least for now, his son’s words mean more to him than a medal ever will.
“I think he’s pretty awesome,” Landon said.
As Baumgartner put it, “That’s a heck of a quote to hear as a dad.”
Cat Hendrick is a student in the sports media program at the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. She is part of TeamUSA.org’s coverage team for the PyeongChang Games.
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