Each month, Team USA Awards presented by Dow celebrates outstanding achievements of U.S. Olympic and Paralympic athletes. Snowboarder Mick Dierdorff won Male Athlete of the Month for February 2019 after winning his first world title in men’s snowboardcross, and then adding another with Lindsey Jacobellis in the mixed team event. In his Diamond Club feature, presented by Dow, Dierdorff shares how focusing on the process led to the ultimate result.
It’s taken a while to get here, but Mick Dierdorff is finally at the point where hearing his name coupled with the words “world champion” isn’t a total shock.
Over the course of two excellent days of competition at last month’s FIS Snowboard, Freestyle and Freeski World Championships in Utah, Dierdorff went from seeking his first victory in major international competition to becoming a two-time world champion, capturing the men’s title in snowboardcross and then teaming with snowboarding legend Lindsey Jacobellis for a second gold in the inaugural mixed team event.
The suddenness with which golden results arrived wasn’t the surprise; Dierdorff is accustomed to speed. No, what really blew him away was the feeling of elation that comes with realizing long-held goals.
“The most challenging thing I’ve had to overcome in my career is coming up short of goals. I have had many seasons that did not go as planned,” he told TeamUSA.org via email. “I’ve had a lot of big goals that I worked incredibly hard for didn’t get the results I was hoping for. Those times in my career have been a huge mental challenge to dig deep, keep the dream alive and never give up.”
Those golden snowflakes, won at age 27 before a supportive crowd that included dozens of friends and family members, are the culmination of a childhood and adolescence centered around winter sports. Dierdorff was on skis at 18 months and part of the ski racing program of the Winter Sports Club in his native Steamboat Springs, Colorado, until the age of 10, when the big air of snowboarding caught his eye.
“I was a good skier but I wasn’t in love with it,” he said. “I thought sliding sideways and hucking myself off jumps sounded more fun. I joined the club’s snowboard program and was obsessed with the freestyle events.”
When a coach noticed he couldn’t get enough of zooming around on his board, Dierdorff was encouraged to give snowboardcross a try. He won his first two races and never looked back.
“Snowboardcross is the most exciting event you can watch,” he said. “It has everything: tight racing, good passing, big jumps, big crashes, exciting victories. There are no judges to tell you who performed better, just four guys racing head to head and the fastest one wins.
“The No. 1 secret to success in SBX is being a good all-around snowboarder. A rider that is good at riding steeps, hitting jumps, arcing turns and pointing it will have a good shot at being a good snowboardcross racer. When those qualities come together with a strong mental game, you will start to see success.”
The kind of success he dreamed of kept him waiting a long time. He’s won three times on the Nor-Am circuit, the last one coming in 2015. A fixture on the world cup circuit for more than a decade and fifth in snowboardcross at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018, Dierdorff stood at the starting gate for the men’s big final at February’s worlds without ever having claimed the top spot on the podium at any major FIS event.
One of his biggest challenges has been the technical start sections, which Dierdorff refers to as “the jock side of the sport.”
Mick Dierdorff celebrates at the FIS World Snowboard Championships on Feb. 1, 2019 in Park City, Utah.
“Being one of the shorter guys on tour makes it tough to keep up with guys that are built like wide receivers,” he says of his 5-foot-9 frame. “I’ve had to work extra hard in the gym and countless hours of training start sections to get where I am now.”
Summers spent in Park City, Utah, where a large part of a day’s workout is devoted to a strength training regimen designed especially for snowboarders who want to go fast, have helped him develop.
Despite the long wait for the win, Dierdorff was aided by one thing: through the years, he had built up enough experience not to doubt that he was capable of winning.
“I’ve always believed in my ability to achieve something like that,” he said. “Expectations in terms of results is a recipe for disaster in SBX. I never try to focus on the outcome of a race. On the other hand, I went into worlds with the expectation that I was going to be one of the fastest guys on that track. I knew that if I raced a smart race I would have just as good of a chance as anyone to be on the top of that podium. Once the race started I felt like I was executing exactly how I had wanted and my confidence started growing.
“Coming into the final heat I was doing everything I could to fight back the emotions. I didn’t want to think about anything other than racing one more heat. I was definitely excited and little anxious but I kept telling myself, ‘you can do this, just go do it.’”
As he sailed across the finish line ahead of Austria’s Hanno Douschan, Italy’s Emanuel Perathoner and Spain’s Lucas Eguibar, his teammates bounded up and suddenly Dierdorff was at the center of a hugging, jumping, celebrating mass.
“I felt more like I was in the best dream ever and I needed someone to pinch me to make sure it was real,” he recalled. In a recent interview with FIS, he added: “So many times I’ve been the person to go rushing for one of my teammates. Seriously, a dream come true.”