Seth Wescott will not defend his Olympic title in Sochi, Russia.
The 37-year-old snowboard cross racer from Carrabassett Valley, a two-time gold medal winner, was bypassed Friday in favor of Nick Baumgartner for the final berth on the U.S. team that will compete in next month’s Winter Olympics in Sochi.
Baumgartner, 32, was told by team officials that he had earned the spot after the two had competed in Friday’s X Games in Aspen, Colo. The official team announcement will be made at noon Saturday.
“It’s not that bad,” Wescott said late Friday. “It’s good to be walking away healthy.”
He said he will continue to compete, and aim for the 2018 Winter Olympics.
Wescott has won the only two Olympic gold medals awarded in snowboard cross, in 2006 and 2010. He was trying to qualify again while recovering from an injury in April that required a full reconstruction of his left knee. He never fully recovered physically and was unable to secure a spot on the team through this season’s World Cup qualifying races.
Wescott missed the first two events, then finished 49th and 31st in the two qualifying races in which he competed. The fifth race was canceled because of a lack of snow in Switzerland.
“I’m not disappointed in the least,” he said. “I knew that this was going to be a really hard turnaround to get to where I needed to be to ride in the Games. It just wasn’t a good timeline.’’
Nate Holland, Trevor Jacob and Alex Deibold automatically made the U.S. team by finishing in the top four in a World Cup event. Because no one else qualified that way, the final spot was a coach’s discretionary pick.
Baumgartner had a sixth-place finish and two eighths in his qualifying races.
He and Wescott competed in the X Games on Friday, with both looking to gain an edge for the final berth on the Olympic team. Neither racer made it past the quarterfinals, but Baumgartner was selected after the competition. Wescott hugged him and wished him well after the announcement.
“To be honest, Nick has been the most consistent guy for us all year,” said Wescott in a phone interview. “I’ve been fortunate to have a couple of pinnacle experiences in the Olympics and know how that can change your life.
“I hope Nick can make the best of this and come home with a medal or come home as a champion. He’s an incredibly humble person and I hope this changes his life,” Wescott said.
He said he was ecstatic over the performance of Alex Tuttle at the X Games. Tuttle, who lives near Wescott, in Stratton, won the silver medal, edged by Holland.
“He’s the silver lining to this day,” said Wescott. “His performance just put me over the moon. I’m so proud of that.”
Tuttle, who was expected to contend for an Olympic berth, struggled in the qualifying races, finishing 27th, 35th, 21st and 23rd. He suffered a concussion in the final qualifier.
Wescott said Tuttle’s performance put his season in perspective. Tuttle blew out an anterior cruciate ligament two years ago. “That’s the reality of it: The process (of recovery) takes two years,” said Wescott.
Wescott won his gold medals with dramatic comebacks in Torino, Italy, in 2006 and Vancouver in 2010.
He has suffered a couple of serious injuries since then.
While working with the noted ski filmmaker Warren Miller in Alaska in April, Wescott fell into a crevasse, tearing the ACL in his left knee. He had crested a rise and gone airborne, noticing a previously unseen crevasse in front of him. He slammed into the far wall of the crevasse, which was about 6 feet deep, with his left knee taking full force.
The surgery required a reconstruction of his ACL as well as a patella tendon graft.
Wescott said that while he has progressed in his recovery, he is still in great pain every time he gets on his board.
“I know what the inside of my body feels like,” he said. “It’s been a battle and it’s been painful. The last three and a half weeks, I’ve been in pain a lot. I was (competing) to see if I could make something happen. Frankly, it’s a relief in a lot of ways to be able to ease back now and stop putting my body through that every day.
“These are the things you battle through in these sports,” he said. “To have an opportunity to make the Olympic team, you battle through that pain. To be the best in the world, you need to be firing on all cylinders, and I just haven’t been. I look forward to the day I can return to that.’’
Wescott and Tuttle will return to Maine on Sunday, with a very limited competition schedule for the rest of the season.
“It’s nice now to have this pressure off, and I won’t race again until next year,” said Wescott. “I’ll focus on my health and take between now and next September to feel 100 percent healthy.”
Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at: