KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia -- Replacing the only man to win the snowboardcross Olympic gold medal since the event debuted in 2006 is no easy task, but on a U.S. team headlined by seasoned veterans it was the Olympic newcomer who kept Team USA’s medal streak alive.
Alex Deibold made the most of his Olympic debut, advancing to the final and securing the bronze medal in men’s snowboardcross on Tuesday at the rainy Rosa Khutor Extreme Park. Deibold finished comfortably behind gold and silver medalists Pierre Vaultier of France and Nikolay Olyunin of Russia, who raced to a photo finish.
“When I came out this morning, all I wanted to focus on was my own snowboarding. In snowboardcross, the fastest guy doesn’t necessarily always win,” said Deibold. “When I was in the gate during that final I wasn’t thinking about the podium at all. I just thought about the hard work I had put in and what I had to do to get to that finish line.”
Although these Games mark Deibold’s first appearance as a competitor, he is no stranger to the Olympic stage, having served as a wax technician for the U.S. snowboard team at the Vancouver 2010 Games. It was hard for him to be on the sidelines, but the experience was valuable.
“It was grueling work but it was a situation that I’m grateful for. It really gave me motivation over the last four years,” said Deibold of his experience at the 2010 Games. “I remembered what it was like to be there, and to stand on the podium today and wrap the flag around myself, all that sacrifice and hard work were more than worth it.”
The course was previously affected by fog and visibility issues, which caused a cancellation of the qualifying round on Monday. The morning of the event, weather continued to play a factor.
But the New Haven, Conn., native wasn’t about to let the weather be a deterrent to what he traveled to Sochi to do.
“I’ve never minded bad weather,” Deibold said. “It’s just something you have to prepare yourself for.”
But even Deibold could not prepare himself for the end of his semifinal run, when he crashed with U.S. teammate Trevor Jacob at the finish line. Deibold finished slightly ahead of Jacob to advance to the final.
“I passed him, he passed me back and I knew I was going to have to be playing to make it past the line,” said Deibold. “I love Trevor and he’s on my team. Those moments are hard.”
“I’m so happy for Alex,” said Jacob, who injured his ankle during the race. “He works really hard. He deserves it.”
Jacob advanced to the small final and finished ninth overall. Meanwhile, Olympic veterans Nate Holland and Nick Baumgartner tied for 25th place.
After turning in 30 world cup starts without a medal, Deibold, 27, won his first world cup medal – a silver – at the Sochi test event in February 2013. Unfortunately, he followed that podium finish with a season-ending separated shoulder.
“It’s been such a long hard road to qualify for the Olympics,” Deibold said. “Over the last four years I made a lot of sacrifices. It’s definitely been really tough, but I remember how hard it was for me back then [in Vancouver] and I use that as motivation to get myself where I am today.”