March 17, 2010

In huge comeback, Wescott wins gold

By EDDIE PELLS, The Associated Press

WEST VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Even in a sport as wild and unpredictable as snowboardcross, it shouldn't come as too big a surprise to see the Olympic champion defend his title.

But really, snowboard fans -- where in the world did Seth Wescott come from?

Heading into the last half of today's final, the 33-year-old from Maine was barely within shouting distance of Canadian Mike Robertson. Then, out of nowhere, he closed the gap, overtook the Canadian and held him off at the finish to take the gold medal -- his second straight and America's second of these Winter Olympics.

Tony Ramoin of France won the bronze, finishing ahead of American Nate Holland, whose spinout about a third of the way down the course set up what seemingly looked like a breeze for Robertson, an underdog who was going for his country's second gold medal of the games.

Wescott made up the distance over a series of five consecutive jumps that can sap speed if not executed correctly. The crowd, about half Canadian and half American, gasped and cheered. Wescott crossed the line first and fell to the ground, then draped the stars and stripes across his shoulders.

A result that was hard to believe -- not so much because of his history in the sport, but because of his last two months.

Wescott hurt his knee and shoulder at an event two months ago and came to the Olympics admittedly not riding his best.

He finished 17th of the 32 riders in qualifying -- not up to his standards -- and was one of the few riders who would acknowledge that the conditions at weather-plagued Cypress Mountain -- slushy, flat light, inconsistent snow -- were crummy.

"You're pretty much riding blind in there," he said between qualifying and the finals.

His low seeding meant he had to wear the black vest for the final three of the four races he ran (the top seed gets to wear red).

But the man in black, a technician who prides himself on finding the winning paths down any course, won gold.

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