Apologies to figure skating, but men’s snowboardcross appears to include the most intriguing U.S. Olympic discretionary selection.
Three men have qualified automatically — two-time Olympian Nate Holland and first-time Olympians Trevor Jacob and Alex Deibold — via earning one top-four finish in World Cup events this season.
The U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association has the ability to add a fourth man to the team, and it is expected to do so next week.
That fourth spot could go to Seth Wescott, who has won both Olympic gold medals since the sport was added to the Olympics in 2006.
Wescott, 37, underwent a complete reconstruction of his left ACL in April after falling into an Alaska crevasse while shooting part of a film for ski and snowboard director Warren Miller. He tore the ACL and broke his tibia.
His return to competition came in Andorra last weekend, the final World Cup event before the Olympics. Wescott finished an unimpressive 49th and 31st in two races, aiming for that top-four criteria.
“I knew it was going to be a tough order for me to jump back on in basically on the last weekend and try to make [the Olympic Team],” Wescott said in a phone interview. “Getting back up to speed, it takes a little while. with my whole scenario, my coming off injury. I thought, mainly for my health, I needed to wait until the last possible moment [to return].”
That fourth spot could also go to Nick Baumgartner, a 2010 Olympian and the only U.S. man with three top-10 finishes on the World Cup tour this season.
“I’m definitely stressed and sweating a little bit,” Baumgartner said in a phone interview. “I don’t want to sound cocky, but as of right now I feel like the strongest rider on the team.”
Baumgartner, 32, hoped to secure his spot in Andorra with a top-four finish, but he came in sixth and eighth in two races.
“It definitely is tough because Seth has had some great results,” Baumgartner said. “There’s no taking it away, he won the last two [Olympics]. … It’s a hard call, but in my eyes I really just hope they go with the results and how the riding is going right now. I think that’s the fair way to go. I also wish I didn’t put myself in this situation.”
Wescott is one of three Olympians trying to become the first American man to win the same Winter Olympic event three straight times (Bonnie Blair is the only U.S. woman to do it). Fellow snowboarder Shaun White (halfpipe) and speed skater Shani Davis (1000m) also won in 2006 and 2010.
Wescott, if they all make the Olympic team, would be the last of the three to make the attempt. Men’s snowboardcross in Sochi is Feb. 17, five days after Davis’ 1000m and six days after White’s halfpipe.
“My history is what it is, and I have the best history of anyone on the U.S. team at major events, worlds, X Games, Olympics,” Wescott said. “So I know, from a USOC perspective, if they’re looking at fielding a team, they’re looking at fielding who’s going to bring medals. That definitely has to weigh in some.
“I was really happy with the progress I made last week and knowing we’ve got more than 30 days until the race day for us over there [in Sochi], I really do feel like I could be ready to go the way I need to be.”
Wescott said he has not made contact with anybody to argue his case to be picked. He believes in the system, that a spot must be earned, and is not feeling pressure despite the uncertainty.
“There is no grandfathering,” he said. “There is no taking me because of what I’ve done in the past. I’m honestly a fan of that.”
Baumgartner calls Wescott a friend.
“I look up to him very much,” Baumgartner said. “You always want great things for your friends, and I want to go [to Sochi] as well. I feel as if I earned it.”
Knowing the qualifying scenario, Wescott still cheered Baumgartner on at the bottom of the course in Andorra.
“Go punch your ticket today,” Wescott told Baumgartner. “I would be happy to see him have great success. Frankly, I don’t think there’s anyone on the team that deserves it more than he does.
“I’ve been so fortunate to have two [Olympic] experiences I’ve had. A third one right now isn’t going to drastically change my life one way or another,” said Wescott, who harbors plans for 2018 whether or not he goes to Sochi. “I look at him as a single father and all the stuff that he has on his plate. He’s an amazing athlete, one of the best we have.”
Wescott brought up an interesting point. He and Baumgartner are slated to compete in the Winter X Games in Aspen, Colo., on Jan. 24. The Winter X Games is not an official Olympic qualifying event, but in this case, he hopes the results there will be taken into consideration.
The final nominations to the Olympic Team are due Jan. 25.
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