Nate Holland, Joanie Anderson seek to defend gold medals at Winter X Games |

Nate Holland, Joanie Anderson seek to defend gold medals at Winter X Games

When South Lake Tahoe’s Shaun Palmer participated in the first Winter X Games in 1997, he won the men’s boardercross race. More than a decade later, the 39-year-old is still a favorite to win.

“I plan to get through to the final and be there with Nate (Holland) and Shaun,” said Seth Wescott, who is still recovering from an injury last season but remains one of the world’s top riders. “There are a few people in the world who have that really good touch, and Nate is one of those people. He is a really good glider and stays low … it’s always a challenge racing against him.”

If Wescott seems to be more worried about Holland than Palmer, there’s a reason for it. Holland, a Squaw Valley rider, has won the past two Winter X Games gold medals and seems poised to defend his title in the boardercross finals on Saturday in Aspen, Colo.

“I am going to keep my old game plan,” Holland said. “I am going to try to ignore the fact that I’ve won the last two times and all that hype and just race my race. Hopefully, I end up with a three-peat, but there are a lot of good guys out there who can win besides me.”

One of those guys is Palmer, who has fully recovered from a torn Achilles tendon suffered just weeks before the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy. He’s battled his way back and returned to the scene in December when he won the Jeep King of the Mountain boardercross race in Telluride, Colo.

He was immediately named to the U.S. Snowboarding “A” team after that race, which featured the world’s top racers, including Wescott and Holland. Palmer, though, didn’t stop there as he landed on the podium after his second-place finish at a World Cup race earlier this month in Austria.

“With the Telluride event, we were able to get four men into the finals, which we’ve never done, and that was against a good international field,” said U.S. Snowboarding Team head coach Pete Foley. “That was amazing for us to have four guys in the final, and we’ve been really happy with how it’s gone.”

In a conference call with reporters on Wednesday, Palmer didn’t really elaborate about how he’s preparing for this week’s event, but he said he’s pleased that action sports athletes are finally getting their due. Winter X Games 12 will be aired in dozens of countries around the world on ESPN/ABC and more than 250 athletes will be competing for a record prize purse of more than $3 million.

“It’s definitely come a long way since we started in 1997,” Palmer said. “It’s a great thing for all the athletes – and for sponsors and endorsements and press around the world. All these athletes are getting recognized like mainstream sports. It’s kind of just evolved.”

In the women’s boardercross race, Tahoe Paradise’s Joanie Anderson is the defending X Games gold medalist but most of the attention remains on Lindsey Jacobellis. Jacobellis, who won the X Games boardercross gold medal from 2004-06, fell last year in the finals and Anderson was right there to cross the finish line ahead of her.

“I have been on top of my game and I feel really strong,” said Jacobellis, who said on Wednesday that she’s withdrawing from the halfpipe competition to solely focus on boardercross. “I can never begin to assume that I will make it to the finals. I really take it one race at a time because we’ve all earned the right to be here.”

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