American men sweep hill at Jeep King of the Mountain
BEAVER CREEK, Colo. ” Seth Wescott and Graham Watanabe could breath easy in the start gate.
The two American snowboarders had already won their tight quarterfinal and semifinals races, and were paired up against each other in the finals of the Jeep King of the Mountain race on Sunday.
Nate Holland of Squaw Valley wasn’t afforded the same luxury.
“We told him, you better not ruin this,” Watanabe joked. “You’re the last man to get the podium ” do your job.”
Holland came through in the third-place race, edging out France’s Polo Delerue to secure the first American podium in snowboardcross style events.
“Those guys were giving me grief up on top, telling me, ‘Sink or swim. Don’t let us down Holland,'” he said.
After Holland assured an American sweep, Wescott cruised to a win in the finals, giving him his second Jeep win in as many events.
“I had a good couple practice runs (yesterday), and I watched video last night and saw the mistakes I’d made,” Wescott said. “That’s key for us if you can go back and dissect what’s wrong.”
Wescott, the snowboardcross Torino gold medalist, rode flawlessly all day, beating Torino silver-medalist Rado Zidek and teammate Holland en route to the finals.
In their first head-to-head race since Torino, Wescott beat Zidek out of the start, and won by .23 seconds in the first of the best of two combined time on the Y-shaped course. Wescott jumped out to an early lead again on the second pass, and held on for the win.
“For me, that was probably the most intense (race) of the day. Rado is a really good starter, so to get him on both of those gates, I was psyched about that. It was fun, you kind of get to reestablish the fact that (the race in Torino) wasn’t a fluke. It was the same (at the start) with Nate Holland. He’s an amazing rider, so to get both hole shots, I was really psyched.”
Wescott took a different approach on the large hip jump on the top the course Sunday than he did during Saturday’s practice.
“I was breaking with the theory that if you landed up top, you’d get the speed going down,” Wescott said. “Today I was coming full speed into it and trying to absorb as much as I could.”
Watanabe, who had bowed out in the first round of the previous King of the Mountain race in Snowbird, Utah, beat Mario Fuchs in the first round, then faced Delerue, the No. 1 qualifier.
In the first run, Watanabe found a great line and finished .42 seconds ahead. The second time around, the two racers went shoulder-to-shoulder for a portion, and Delerue emerged with the lead. But Watanabe, a great drafter, closed the gap and finished just off the tail of Delerue at the finish, and moved through to the finals.
“Polo is a really good rider, and we were similar out of the start. We were both trying for that inside line. It’s always exciting to have that shoulder-to-shoulder riding,” Watanabe said. “Being smaller, physically, it’s important to find speed where you can. You’ve gotta pump transitions and draft where you can.”
In the finals, Watanabe had a miscue on his first run, all but assuring Wescott of a win. On his final run, Watanabe moved into the home stretch with a lead, and pulled a huge grab.
“I knew Seth was close, and I wasn’t going to make up the time gap, so I figured I’d have a little fun with it,” Watanabe said. “I went a little bigger than I was expecting ” I had to save it.”
Watanabe was excited about his teams’ success, as well as his own.
“Podiums never hurt, especially because this was really feature oriented, and I come from a racing background, so in the past, I’ve been a turner and that’s been it … whereas here, I was able to be varied and use a lot of skills,” he said.
Wescott and Watanabe had been looking for a chance to chide Holland following his antics at the 2006 Torino Games.
“At the first day of Olympics last year, we get over there and had 10 days to go until the event,” Wescott said. “Nate wakes up, all jet-lagged at 5 a.m., running around saying, ‘We need to wax test now. Screw those guys (who don’t want to). They can sink or swim.’
“We were giving it back to him today.”
After Holland crossed the line ahead of Delerue, he carried a big smile and cheered on his teammates.
“I can’t wait to greet them,” Holland said.
Shaun Palmer of South Lake Tahoe, who designed the course, was the No. 8 qualifier, and had to race Delerue in the quarterfinals. Palmer fell on his first run, then failed to make up the time difference on the second pass.
Almost all of the riders will be in Aspen this week for the X Games.
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