Wescott defends gold, makes history
WHISTLER, British Columbia -- The race was on.
Margaret Wescott bolted to the front of the pack, frantically pushing through the crowd, eyes trained on the finish line just a few hundred feet ahead.
"My son just won the gold medal!" Wescott shouted as she blitzed out of the stands and past an overly aggressive security guard in a Smurf-blue winter jacket. "He did it again! Two in a row! I have to get to him!"
With that, Mama Wescott flew down a set of icy stairs, weaved through a maze of reporters, photographers and volunteers, and was hoisted over a blue barrier by Seth's dad, Jim. "I'm coming!" she yelled, dashing with impressive dexterity through a slippery obstacle course speckled with television cameras. "You did it again!" Mom said, tightly hugging her son, Seth Wescott, 33, the first snowboarder to repeat as Olympic gold medalist since the sport was added in 1998 and the only snowboardcross gold medalist in Olympic history.
It was a photo finish.
Wescott came into these Games considered a heavy favorite by those who know he's the kind of experienced racer with the ability to turn it on when it counts, and a long shot by those who have placed too much weight on his subpar World Cup performances of late. "Seth is an enigma like that," said teammate Graham Watanabe, who qualified second in time trials, but was knocked out by half a board length in the round of 32. "If he has the motivation, he can make it happen."
Monday afternoon, Wescott didn't need any more motivation than the thought of standing on the top tier of the Olympic podium once again. "Pressure situations like this kick me into a different level of motivation," Wescott said after the race. "It's an amazing feeling to have a singular goal all season and accomplish that goal." Especially when it comes with $25,000, a shiny new necklace and four years of bragging rights.
And while members of the media may have doubted Wescott's ability to repeat here in Vancouver, Wescott never doubted himself. Before the race, the Sugarloaf, Maine, native handed a U.S. flag to Lindsey Sine, a press officer for U.S. Snowboarding, and told her, "I'm going to need this at the finish."
It was the same military service flag Wescott's dad draped around him in Torino after hurdling a barricade and fighting through security, much like Mom did today, to reach his son at the finish. (Is there any question where the guy gets his racing skills?) The flag was given to Seth's dad at the funeral of his father, Ben Wescott, a World War II veteran who died when Seth was in sixth grade.
"This year, Seth called me and said, 'Dad, I want to bring the flag myself,'" Jim Wescott said, moments after waving another flag high in the air as his son stepped onto the podium for the flower ceremony at Cypress Mountain. "This is just an old one I took down from my barn at home," he said, wiping away tears. "It's pretty emotional. When Seth has a big race, I don't talk to him all week. I think he turns his cell phone off, doesn't check his e-mail. He needs to be in his own zone. So this was the first time I saw him. I just hugged him and told him I loved him."
For much of the finals, it looked as though Wescott would be joined on the podium by his teammate Nate Holland, who rode strong and smart throughout the quarters and semis, but crashed midway through the final. Known for their intense on-snow battles and smack-talking quips off the snow, Holland and Wescott won each of their first heats. They met up in the quarters and semis, where they finished 1-2 both times and set up the exciting prospect of the U.S. taking the top two medals. The only question was, who would finish first?
"Up at the top, I looked at Seth and said, 'It's time to shake and bake in the finals,'" Holland said. "I tend to live or die by the wreck-or-win sword, so I guess if I'm going to wreck, I best be going for Olympic gold." Unfortunately, Holland's mistake coming out of Turn 4 cost him more than the gold. It cost him a medal.
"I'm fired up for Wescott's two-peat. I guess I'll let him control this one and I'll control X Games," said Holland, the five-time reigning Winter X champ who finished fourth in Tuesday's final. "As teammates, we'll control the two biggest races in the world."
That is, until one of Wescott's parents decides to enter the race.
Alyssa Roenigk is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.