PORTLAND – Five months after surgery to reconstruct his left knee, and just under five months from the opening ceremonies of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Seth Wescott is confident he’ll be ready to compete for a berth on the U.S. Olympic team.

Wescott, a two-time Olympic gold-medal winner in snowboardcross from Carrabassett Valley, will head to New Zealand with the rest of the U.S. ski team next week to get back on snow for the first time since his accident last April. Joining him will be Alex Tuttle, a 22-year-old from Stratton who also has a strong chance at representing Maine in the Sochi Games.

Four racers will be selected to compete for the snowboardcross in the Olympics. Selections will be based on the results of four World Cup events in December and January, beginning Dec. 7 in Austria.

“All I can do right now is take it one day at a time,” Wescott said Wednesday. “I’m just trying to be as patient as I can, and I know my healing is ongoing and will be ongoing.”

Wescott will be limited in New Zealand as he returns to the snow for the first time since injuring his left knee when he fell into a crevice in Alaska while working with filmmaker Warren Miller.

“No jumping or stuff,” said Wescott. “We made a plan early on with the head of physical therapy (for Team USA) and she thought I would be ready (to get back on the snow now). It’s better for (me) to have gone and made turns and to come back and have two more months in the gym than to have waited until December and have it a total unknown when I go over to the first training camp in Austria.”

Tuttle, who has trained with Wescott since he graduated from Carrabassett Valley Academy, is certain Wescott will be ready. “He knows his limits and is going to make the smart decisions along the way and do what he needs to do to be as ready as he possibly can,” said Tuttle, who returned from a knee injury to finish third in last year’s national championships. “There’s only so much you can do. It’s a day-by-day process that a lot of us are used to.”

Wescott and Tuttle have tried to concentrate solely on training this summer, but world events are also on their minds.

The situation in Syria is a concern.

Of more concern is Russia’s anti-gay legislation. President Vladimir Putin in June signed legislation that would outlaw the “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” among minors. Its ambiguity prompted several countries to ask what the law means and how it would be enforced at the Olympics.

Wescott and Tuttle have strong feelings about it.

“I have friends on the female side of snowboarding from the gay and lesbian community,” said Wescott. “And as a civil rights thing, as a human rights thing, people should not be discriminated against. If you look at the spirit of the Olympic Games and what it’s about I have learned so much from my two Olympic experiences. I’ve been fortunate to have had pinnacle experiences and to have won. But it’s really not about winning.

“It’s about participation. It’s about the spirit of the entire world taking three weeks off to celebrate the transcendent ability of sport to influence people in a positive way. It’s sad to me that with all the progress we can make in the world that athletes are going to have to deal with this discrimination that should never be brought to light because it’s their personal life.”

Tuttle added, “It’s just a negative energy that we try to not let affect us. But it’s unfortunate that it’s a reality, that there are still people out there who feel that way.”

They don’t think the U.S. would boycott the Sochi Games as it did in 1980, boycotting the Olympics in Moscow after the Russians invaded Afghanistan.

“I think the experience from not going to Moscow the last time is something the U.S. Olympic Committee does not want to repeat,” said Wescott.

For now they continue to train. And for Wescott, that means total concentration on his rehab.

If Wescott isn’t ready to compete, he could receive a coach’s discretionary spot on the team. And given that he is the only winner in the event’s Olympic history, that’s possible. But, Wescott said, “If I’m not ready then the next generation needs to carry that torch.”

He believes Tuttle is at the head of that next generation.

“He went to the team summer camp and dominated every other member of the U.S. team,” said Wescott. “He definitely has the riding skills, not just to make the team, but Alex could also be a medal contender this time.”

Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at:

mlowe@pressherald.com

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