Olympic Snowboarder Must Overcome Injury To Win Third Gold

Jan 1, 2014
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Two-time Olympic gold medalist Seth Wescott has been snowboarding longer than some of his competitors have been alive. And at 37, Wescott isn't ready for retirement. Far from it, he's got his sights on another victory at the games in Sochi, Russia.

But as Maine Public Radio's Susan Sharon reports, he'll first have to overcome a physical hurdle to qualify.

SUSAN SHARON, BYLINE: Wescott has dominated snowboard cross since 2005, when he emerged as the world champion. The following year, he took gold in the sport's Olympic debut, and he came from behind for another gold in the Vancouver games in 2010.


SHARON: Growing in popularity, snowboard cross is sometimes described as motocross on a snowboard. In this event, several snowboarders all simultaneously race down a steep and narrow course that includes bank turns, big jumps, inclines, drops and flats. Going airborne and crashing into each other come with the territory. And Wescott has not been immune.

SETH WESCOTT: January of 2012, I had kind of a freak crash in a world cup in Veysonnaz, Switzerland, on the landing of a jump and ended up tearing the pectoral off of my arm, off the humerus bone. So I had to have my chest reattached to my arm.

SHARON: And then, last April, during an annual snowboarding trip in the rugged Alaska wilderness, Wescott soared over a gap in a glacier and ran smack into the side of a crevasse.

WESCOTT: There was a - probably like a 40-foot-wide open hole in front of me. So I hit the other wall and came to a dead stop.

SHARON: Wescott tore a ligament in his left knee and fractured his shin. Somehow, he managed to ride his snowboard to the bottom of the mountain. Wescott had surgery and began intensive physical therapy just 10 months before the Olympics.

WESCOTT: It's the reality of the sport in that, you know, you can't function in a, you know, a world of bubble wrap if you're doing action sports. You're gonna get banged up from time to time, and there's gonna be times where you're going to be forced to sit out. And I really believe that I can get to Sochi. And I know that if I get there, I can kind of make magic happen on that day.

SHARON: Taking a run on Maine's Sugarloaf Mountain, he says he's making progress.

WESCOTT: It's just so fun to, like, be able to crank turns again and not have pain right now. Feels good.


SHARON: Wescott started snowboarding just five months after his knee surgery. But the pressure is on. There are just four Olympic slots on the men's snowboard cross team and Wescott, champion though he may be, does not get grandfathered in. Peter Foley is the U.S. snowboarding head coach.

PETER FOLEY: When the terrain is smooth, he's perfect. But I think his knee is just not quite to the point that he wants it to be in rough terrain.

SHARON: Foley says Wescott's advantage is his depth of experience in the sport and his natural ability. It also doesn't hurt that there are several other members of the U.S. team who are dealing with injuries.

PETER CARLISLE: I'd say one of the biggest advantages he has over others in the field is that he's done it before.

SHARON: Peter Carlisle is Wescott's agent and friend. He says if anyone can beat the odds of medaling a third time at the Olympics, it's Seth Wescott. But if he doesn't get to go to Sochi, Wescott says it won't be the end of his career. He plans on competing in the Olympics again in 2018 when he'll be 41 years old. For NPR News, I'm Susan Sharon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.