VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Going from fourth place to first on dry, flat land: Hard.
Going from fourth to first careening down a tight, slushy course on a snowboard: Harder.
Doing it at the Winter Olympics: Priceless.
Improvisation, thy name is Seth Wescott.
The 33-year-old came from last to first Monday in the men’s snowboard cross final at Cypress Mountain, holding off crowd favorite Mike Robertson of Canada at the finish line to win the U.S.’s second gold medal.
Wescott, of Sugarloaf, Maine, remains the only winner of this event at the Olympics, having captured the inaugural snowboard cross four years ago in Turin, Italy.
That was considered a vintage performance, but this sequel was perhaps a tribute to his experience and survival skills after a less-than-stellar morning trial (17th out of 32) and placement in the early stages of the final.
“I think it was maybe a little more overwhelming to do it the first time,” said Wescott, who dropped to the ground in jubilation and later wrapped himself in his grandfather’s flag.
“The realization of doing it back to back is a little nicer. It’s amazing when you have a singular goal for your entire season.”
Robertson relinquished the lead about two-thirds of the way down the course and said he made a mistake on a jump near the bottom. Tony Ramoin of France was the bronze-medal winner and Wescott’s teammate, Nate Holland of Sandpoint, was fourth after sliding out.
“I had a bad start in the final,” Wescott said. “You can’t let that get to you. The race isn’t won until the finish line – kind of pick your way through the crowd.
“You start with a game plan and you kind of get creative along the way.”
If someone was going to be able to navigate through a crowded house of a snowboard cross in a major race, and pick off the major players, it would be Wescott.
“I knew he was the most dangerous man in that gate,” said Holland, who beat Wescott in an exciting X Games final last month in Aspen. “Just because of his experience and racing ability.
“He has the ability to realize he is in fourth place and understand what he needs to do to get into first. … I had no doubt he was going to be in there.”
The gold wasn’t quite in Robertson’s hands, but it appeared close. Canada has won one gold and two silvers at Cypress Mountain in three days of competition.
“Disappointing? It’s not disappointing at all,” he said. “I just won a silver medal in Canada. It’s amazing.”
Robertson knew Wescott – or someone else – would take advantage of his mistake.
“I’m pretty fired up for Wescott, two-peating at the Olympics,” Holland said. “I guess I’ll just let Wescott control this race and I’ll control the X Games.
“Together as teammates, we can control the two biggest snowboarding races in the world.”