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Shred, white and blue

Add snowboardcross to events Americans dominate

Posted: Thursday February 16, 2006 3:30PM; Updated: Thursday February 16, 2006 5:33PM
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Seth Wescott's gold-medal performance made the Olympic debut of snowboardcross a smashing success.
Seth Wescott's gold-medal performance made the Olympic debut of snowboardcross a smashing success.
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BARDONECCHIA, Italy -- Where have you been all our lives, snowboardcross?

In its Olympic debut on a sinuous, treacherous, jump-strewn, banked and bottle-necked course down the mountain above Bardonecchia, this addictive event proved a smashing success -- and not just because the first SBX medal in Olympic history was won by American Seth Wescott, a dashing lad from Maine who is equally at ease discussing Noam Chomsky, snowboarding Alaskan glaciers and chatting up David Letterman.

In fact, just before leaving for Italy, Wescott appeared on Letterman and read the Top 10 reasons he was looking forward to going to Turin. The No. 1 reason: To be Bode Miller's designated driver.

When it comes to medals, American snowboarders have taken a backseat to no one at these games, least of all their underachieving downhill-skiing brethren. Wescott's was the fifth medal won by the shredders -- the third gold -- and proved yet again that if you're starved for American success, Bardonecchia is the place to be.

Even if Wescott had not executed a nervy inside pass of the canny Slovakian rider Radoslav Zidek halfway down the mountain, then held "Rado" off the rest of the way, this event was must-see mayhem. There was Paul-Henri Delerue bringing up the rear in his first heat -- until two riders in front of him became entangled, crashed and were bisected by the grateful Frenchman, who rode that bon chance through two more heats and into the finals, where he took bronze. That wipeout was but an hors d'oeuvre for the clash that changed the composition of the finals, knocked one of the favorites out of medal contention and gave us the spectacle of one American teammate turning on another, sort of like figure skating with baggier unis.

Nate Holland is a burly redhead with a blunt manner. He is the guy who performs best when he works himself into a prerace frenzy. An Idaho native who is currently ranked fourth in the world in this sport (and widely considered one of Wescott's biggest threats) sailed through to the quarterfinals, where he took the start with Delerue, Switzerland's Marco Huser and fellow American Jason Smith. Smith took an early lead, with Holland roaring up his tailpipe. As they approached a jump, Holland moved left, preparing to pass.

That's when Smith, taking what he later described as the more prudent course, "speed-checked" -- that is, turned his board slightly to bleed off a bit of speed before taking the jump. The front of Holland's board appeared to contact the tail of Smith's. That was enough to force Holland's board up, where it caught the wind like a sail, and sent him flying out of control. Smith won the heat, Delerue came second. Arriving last was a redhead with a very red rear end.