snowboarding

Racing toward the Olympics, in between plumbing gigs

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The day before Jonathan Cheever flew to Argentina to open the snowboard cross season, he labored at the U.S. Ski & Snowboard’s Center of Excellence in Park City, Utah.

The job? Replacing six feet of rotted-out piping beneath a garbage disposal. The drain was clogged with a few days’ worth of coffee grounds.

The 32-year-old Cheever has been a snowboarder and a plumber for more than a decade.

Lately, he’s been pretty valuable to U.S. Ski & Snowboard in both and, after an out-of-nowhere finish Saturday, appears headed to his first Olympics in February.

“‘[Plumbing] is still my bread and butter,” Cheever said.

He used the organization’s money for fixing its pipes toward $7,500 in travel costs to Argentina for the first World Cup stop of the Olympic season last weekend.

Years removed from his career highlights, Cheever is no longer a national A team member. He must pay his own way to competitions.

In Argentina, Cheever picked an opportune time to make his first World Cup podium since Feb. 21, 2012, finishing in third place on Saturday. That one result may be enough to make his first Olympics.

“There’s not a switch that’s flipped,” said Cheever, whose previous top finish since December 2012 was eighth. “Everything last year was firing on all cylinders, but there was always just one little thing that would change a result from a top-10 to a top-40, whether it was somebody hitting me in a turn or getting unlucky with some wind or maybe even a bad decision on a roller.”

In U.S. snowboarding team selection, a top-three finish at one of four events — Saturday’s race in Argentina, plus three more in Europe in December — provisionally qualifies for the Olympic team.

Cheever can only be knocked off the Olympic team if three other Americans make a podium at the remaining three selection events. If more than three total U.S. men earn a podium, then the tie is broken by best finish.

It’s unlikely to reach a tiebreaker. The top U.S. men — who all outperformed Cheever last season — rarely land on the World Cup podium. Their stats since the start of the 2015-16 season:

Nick Baumgartner — three podiums in 16 starts (18.8 percent)
Alex Deibold 
— two podiums in 16 starts (12.5 percent)
Nate Holland — one podium in 13 starts (7.7 percent)
Hagen Kearney — one podium in 15 starts (6.7 percent)

Cheever also has a safety net. A potential fourth and final place on the Olympic team is a discretionary pick by a committee after the selection events.

“It’s not guaranteed that I’m on Team USA, but I definitely made things a lot easier on myself,” he said.

A 32-year-old snowboarder making his Olympic debut may sound strange, but snowboard cross is not necessarily a young rider’s event like the sport’s other disciplines.

Lindsey Jacobellis, her Olympic misses aside, continues to be the world’s best female racer at age 32. Seth Wescott won the first two Olympic men’s snowboard cross gold medals at 29 and 33, respectively.

Snowboarding pioneer Shaun Palmer made a World Cup podium at age 41 in 2010.

Today’s top international stars — Alex Pullin of Australia and Pierre Vaultier of France — will both be 30 years old in PyeongChang.

Riders help pay the bills by sticking sponsor logos on the bottom of their boards. On Cheever’s board reads, “Bradford White Water Heaters,” his biggest financial supporter for seven or eight years.

Now, Cheever must focus on his plumbing before the next races in December.

An eight-hour class is ahead to keep his license in his home state of Massachusetts, where his dad has been in the plumbing business for more than 30 years. However, Cheever plans to move to Austria this fall to live with his wife, two-time Olympic snowboarder Maria Ramberger.

“If money was the motivating factor, I would be installing toilets or water heaters,” he said. “I race snowboards because I love everything about it.

“Hopefully, I can line up enough sponsors where, you know, the plumbing is more of a side thing than a main source of income.”

Cheever, who took up snowboarding at age 12, graduated as class president from an all-boys Catholic school in 2003. He pursued a plumbing license while also enrolling at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell in mechanical engineering.

He soon reasoned that plumbing would net more money. He left school after one year and moved to Utah as a snowboarder/plumber. Strong results soon followed.

Cheever made his first World Cup podium in February 2009 and ranked sixth in the world for the season (third among Americans). But the pressure of an Olympic season got to him, and he didn’t make the Vancouver team of four men.

Cheever rebounded to nearly win the World Cup overall title in 2011, but before Saturday he had not made a World Cup podium since rupturing his Achilles in March 2012.

The difference this year is primarily mental. Cheever said he went into Saturday’s race — his 69th World Cup in 12 seasons — believing he was not only the fastest American, but also fastest in the world.

Now, the goal isn’t just to make it to PyeongChang. It’s to find the podium there, too.

“I don’t base my life around the Olympics, but it’s extremely important,” he said. “We sit down, we have a meeting, and we talk about what you have to do to make the U.S. Olympic team, and my heart rate jumps up.”

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MORE: PyeongChang Olympic schedule daily highlights

Shaun White crashes, misses halfpipe season opener

Shaun White
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Double Olympic champion Shaun White crashed in training and withdrew from this weekend’s New Zealand Winter Games, which was to be his first halfpipe contest of the Olympic season.

“Nothing is broken, but the doctors advised me to take a few weeks off,” White said in a statement. “I’m heading home to rest and prepare for more snowboarding next month.”

He added more on social media.

“Not exactly the birthday I was hoping for,” White, who turned 31 on Sunday, posted. “I under rotated a double flip that sent me to the hospital. The biggest scare was seeing blood in my urine, but after the tests all came back looking good I was released to go home. Life’s going to knock you down…. get up, learn from your mistakes, and you’ll be better for it! see you back on the mountain soon.”

White can afford minor injuries this early in the season. The Olympic selection events are in December and January.

White is arguably the favorite for gold in PyeongChang in February despite finishing a disappointing fourth in Sochi, where he was bidding to three-peat as Olympic halfpipe champion.

White gradually improved last season after taking time off, changing coaches. dropping slopestyle (and his band work) and undergoing fall left ankle surgery. He was 11th at January’s Winter X Games — his worst finish there since 2000 — but then finished first, second and first in his last three events.

He peaked at the finale, the U.S. Open in Vail, Colo. White landed a cab double cork 1440 and a double McTwist 1260 in one run for the first time, according to The Associated Press.

Though September may seem early to see White (or any other major Winter Olympian) compete, he was also entered in the New Zealand Winter Games in the Sochi Olympic season. But he withdrew then, too, with an ankle injury from a training crash.

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MORE: No private halfpipe for Shaun White before PyeongChang

Torah Bright eyes fourth Olympics in 2018

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Torah Bright has only competed once in the last two and a half years, but the Australian Olympic snowboard champion acknowledged on Thursday that she does plan to compete in the PyeongChang Winter Games.

Bright gave the word of approval on an Australian TV morning show (video here).

Bright is arguably the greatest Australian Winter Olympian, winning halfpipe gold in 2010 and silver in 2014. She competed in three snowboarding events in Sochi — halfpipe, slopestyle (seventh) and snowboard cross (18th).

Come February, Bright will be older than any previous Olympic halfpipe medalist.

“Let’s just say I will not be doing three events again,” she said in August 2015, according to the Australia Olympic Committee. “Maybe two. Halfpipe and slopestyle are essentially the same thing if you are riding. They help each other.”

Bright’s only contest in the last two and a half years was the Laax Open in January 2016. She finished second in halfpipe behind U.S. Olympian Arielle Gold. The world’s best riders, Kelly Clark and Chloe Kim, were not at that event.

Bright last competed at the Winter X Games in 2015.

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MORE: Kelly Clark hopes to add more Olympic bib to historic wall