Wescott wins snowboard cross gold
February 16 Canadians bumped out of finals
By Bob Barnett
BARDONECCHIA, Italy – That’s boardercross, man.
Actually, the IOC calls it snowboard cross and it made its Olympic debut today at Bardonecchia.
All four Canadian men qualified for the round of 32, but snow snakes, a collision of thoughts and more contact than seen in some hockey games meant none of the Canucks reached the final.
American Seth Wescott took the gold medal, slipping past Radoslav Zidek on a jump two-thirds of the way down the course and edging the Slovak by half a board length. Frenchman Paul-Henri Delerue took the bronze medal. Spain’s Jordi Font was fourth.
Despite intermittent rain and snow, this morning looked promising for the Canadians. North Vancouver’s Drew Neilson was the top qualifier, with a time more than three-quarters of a second faster than Wescott.
By the time the afternoon’s elimination rounds started the sun was out and a noisy crowd of more than 7,000 was anxious to see history made.
For the Canadians, however, it wasn’t the type of history they were hoping for. Less than 20 seconds into the first elimination round Neilson’s board was knocked out from underneath him by Rafal Skarbek-Malczewski of Poland.
“It’s horrible,” said Neilson. “I was top qualifier. I just wanted to get in front, I wanted to be leading. I didn’t want to be behind somebody who was slower than me in the time trial.
“I made a move, got together with him, tried to get back into the course and he caught my tail with his nose. It was over before you knew it.”
While disappointed, Neilson wasn’t about to blame the Pole.
“It just happens and you’ve got to learn to accept it,” he said. “You can’t get too angry unless the person blatantly pushes you right out of the course. You know, it’s boardercross.
“It was just a collision of thoughts.”
Quebec’s Jasey Jay Anderson looked like he might be able to salvage something for the Canadian team after Neilson was eliminated. Anderson, who qualified 20 th , won his first two rounds and finished second in the semifinal, but was then disqualified for missing a gate.
“I was just trying to be consistent, ride the right line and prevent anybody from cutting inside me,” Anderson said.
“Jordi Font managed to squeak by there. It was a gamble. I knew I had to kind of be on my guard as soon as he passed me because I knew he was going to crash somewhere. He crashed right in front of me and I couldn’t go on the side I had to, so I had to crash over him. I tried to get my board over the stubby but it didn’t go over. I thought it went, but that’s why the DQ’d me.”
The Canadian team protested but after several video reviews the jury upheld Anderson’s disqualification.
“As far as the disappointment, it’s boardercross. I can walk away. I’ve done my job, and done the best I could do with the circumstances,” Anderson said.
“I had the worst lane choices but I always managed to get the holeshot, to win the start. So I guess that’s my pat on the back for today.”
Anderson won the small final to finish fifth.
Francois Boivin was eliminated in the quarterfinals, while Nelson’s Tom Velisek crashed in the first round.
“Unfortunately, coming into the second corner I left the gate, which would be the space between me and the first gate there, a little too open, so Marco, the Swiss guy, was able to come inside of me,” Velisek explained.
“Then from there I was forced to take the inside on the third corner, which is really soft and slow. So I was pretty much in trouble there. I cased a set of doubles right after, that didn’t help me. And then coming out of the fourth corner I caught a phantom snow snake. It put me right down.
“That was pretty much the end of it. But I still got up and raced back and was able to pass one more guy and finish with my signature move, the front flip.”
While the first Olympic snowboard cross wasn’t what the Canadians were hoping for, Neilson plans on contesting the next one at Cypress in 2010.
“Not a chance. No,” he said when asked if he was considering retirement.
“(Sean) Palmer was showing how people could do it at age 36, 37 this year. I’m only 31, 32 in June. I plan to stick around till 2010 and I’m going to take this thing home for Canada in Canada.”