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Older, wiser, fearless

Thu., Feb. 11, 2010

Sandpoint’s Holland ready for second chance at Olympics

We’ll know that the extreme sports daredevils will have changed the face of the Olympic Games for good when the motto gets amended to something like, “Swifter, higher, stronger … epic.”

But the change is certainly under way.

Think of it this way: After stepping off the medal podium, you won’t find Usain Bolt risking his hide racing leopards across the African veld. But it wouldn’t be out of character for snowboarder Nate Holland to unwind from the upcoming Olympic pressure cooker by, say, dropping from a helicopter and slashing down the 50-degree slopes of Alaska’s Chugach Mountains.

“I’ll go up in the spring and ride up there,” said the 31-year-old Sandpoint native. “It’s a blast, but it’s also the most stressful part of the season. You have to be on point or you may not come home. But it’s a good reference. You look at an Olympic course and it’s no big deal – I’ll fly into that thing at 60 mph versus some gnarly 3,000-foot mountain that might avalanche.”

Four years have ferried Holland to another Olympic Winter Games and he’s older and wiser – but by no means is he now Nate the Sedate.

You only had to see his fearless ride to a fifth consecutive Winter X Games title in snowboardcross 12 days ago to understand that he isn’t tippy-toeing into these Olympics. Or see the karaoke video of him shredding Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead or Alive” now poised to go viral to know he’s not taking himself too seriously.

“Karaoke’s 90 percent stage presence, 10 percent voice,” he insisted on the video, still leaving him several percentage points in arrears on the vocal end.

There is no underestimating the element of fun that Holland and his boardmates have brought to the Olympic movement, but Holland’s fun would be ratcheted up considerably if there’s a medal in his destiny on Monday.

Sports Illustrated has pegged him for the silver in snowboardcross behind France’s Pierre Vaultier – but, of course, they had the Colts winning the Super Bowl, too. And Holland was also one of the favorites four years ago in Torino until he got sandwiched between two other riders in his quarterfinal run and fell, ending up 14th.

“I lost concentration for a millisecond,” acknowledged Holland, who lives and competes out of Squaw Valley, Calif. “I wasn’t able to put the move I wanted to on that jump and I paid for it. This is no time to lose it even for that millisecond. You’ve got to be in it 100 percent.

“It stings – just like any race in any sport. It helped that I got to watch my teammate (Seth Wescott) win it. I’m just thankful for the opportunity to get another shot at it.”

The original opportunity was the result of two long-building plotlines, starting with Holland’s introduction to skis at age 3 and to his first snowboard – a Burton Cruzer 135 – at age 10. Among his cronies on the slopes of Schweitzer Mountain were the grandsons of the resort’s founder, Jim Brown, and if they didn’t exactly terrorize the joint they “got into some mischief,” Holland said. Meanwhile, he started competing in all the snowboard disciplines with his one board (“it’s what you did back then”), until boardercross was approved as an Olympic sport in 2004.

“My freestyle career was tapering off,” he recalled. “I went to the U.S. team camp and made it and I remember our coaches saying, ‘You just think you’re pretty cool now, but we’re going to get you a lot faster.’ I thought, ‘How am I going to get any faster? I’m ripping now.’ Well, they were right and I was wrong.”

Since then, he’s won three World Cup events and been in the top three of the seasonal points standings three times. He’s third again going into Vancouver, the difference this year perhaps being a little more dedicated approach – including more time in the gym and a 21/2-month training stay in Park City, Utah.

Despite the occasional Spicoli hues in his speech and boardercross’ newbie status on the Olympic menu, it’s clear that while Holland treasures all his X Games success, he reveres the Olympics.

“It’s the heritage of it all,” he said. “All of us grew up near mountains watching the Olympics – I remember getting to stay up past bedtime to watch them when they were in Calgary. To get to be a part of that now, it’s bigger than just snow sports and the U.S. – it’s the world and a celebration, not just a competition. But the competition is big, too.”

Epic, actually.

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