February 26, 2010

Wescott wins gold againSnowboarder from Maine defends his Olympic title

MARK MALONEY

— By

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Seth Wescott of the USA reacts crossing the finish line to win the snowboard cross at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia, Monday, Feb. 15, 2010. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

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Seth Wescott
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Seth Wescott

Darryl Dyck

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Special to the Press Herald

WEST VANCOUVER, British Columbia — This time, Jim Wescott didn't have to jump a fence and break past security guards to reach his son.

The son, Seth Wescott, had packed a family heirloom, his late grandfather's American flag, in hopes that he could hoist it in celebration of a gold medal.

On Monday, just as he did four years ago, Seth Wescott did exactly that.

Coming from last place in the four-man finals, the pride of Maine made a furious charge to win snowboardcross gold at the Vancouver Olympics.

Wescott is the only gold medalist in the history of the Olympic event, which debuted at the Turin Games in Italy in 2006. The Farmington native is also the only Mainer to ever win a gold medal at the Winter Olympics.

Now he has two.

Canada's Mike Robertson, who led most of the way, took the silver medal, while Tony Ramoin of France won bronze. Team USA's Nate Holland, running right with Robertson, lost his balance in the fourth turn and placed fourth.

At 33, Wescott is the oldest gold medalist in an Olympic snowboard event.

In the finals, starting from the outside, Wescott immediately fell behind.

He told himself to be patient, ''find the passes on the lower part of the course and execute the turns better to get by people, and it worked.''

Holland's slip enabled Wescott to move into third. He overtook Ramoin on a later turn, then took a jump perfectly to pass Robertson.

''I just missed a jump at the bottom,'' Robertson said. ''Seth capitalized and he took the lead.''

Wescott's sister, Sarah, never lost faith during the early stages of the race.

''You have to trust him. He's patient and he's smart. And he just ran it!'' she said. She was among the first to embrace her brother at the bottom of the course.

To reach the finals, Wescott survived two qualification solo runs, followed by three four-man races, from which the top two finishers advanced.

In qualifying, where boarders take two solo runs, Wescott ranked 26th on his first try (1:25.69), but improved to 17th (1:22.87) heading into the four-man quarterfinal heats.

He and Holland finished 1-2 in their first four-man race and the quarterfinals. Holland, winner of five consecutive X Games, reversed the order in the semifinals.

''At the start, I knew he was the most dangerous man in the gate,'' Holland said of the finals, ''because of his talent and his experience.''

''I'm pretty fired up for Wescott 'two-peating' at the Olympics. I guess I'll just let Wescott control this race and I'll control the X Games. Together, as teammates, we can control the two biggest snowboard races in the world.''

Among those not reaching the finals: Australia's Alex Pullin, the leader through qualifying, who crashed in the round of 32; Frenchman Pierre Vaultier, the World Cup champion and favorite here, who placed third in his quarterfinal heat; and Americans Graham Watanabe and Nick Baumgartner. Watanabe was eliminated in a photo finish for second place in the round of 32; Baumgartner crashed en route to a fourth-place finish in the same round.

So which gold medal is sweeter for Seth Wescott?

''I think it was maybe a little bit more overwhelming to do it the first time,'' he said. ''I think the realization of doing it back-to-back is a little nicer. It's amazing when you have a singular goal for your entire season and you make it happen.''

As for the flag, Jim Wescott packed it four years ago ''just in case'' Seth medaled.

When security guards at the Turin Games denied him access to his son, he thought for a minute, hopped a fence and split through a pair of police officers and some volunteers to pass the flag.

Jim Wescott's father, Ben, who died in 1988, was presented with the flag for his four years of service in the Army. A sergeant, he instructed soldiers at Fort Bragg on how to use a howitzer during World War II.

Seth Wescott, who has had possession of the flag for the past four years, wanted to display it again Monday in honor of his family.

Jim Wescott recalled the day after his son won gold at Turin, going to the set of the ''Today'' show and draping the flag over a crowd-barrier fence.

''There was a small Italian man and, now that I think of it, he was probably in World War II, and the Americans came in and liberated that part of Italy,'' Jim Wescott said, choking with emotion.

''He picked up the flag -- the end of it -- and he said 'May I kiss it?'

''And he did. So that flag means more than just what it meant to my father.''

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Additional Photos

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Seth Wescott of the USA, right race Nate Holland of the USA, left and Fabio Caduff of Switzerland, center, left during the snowboardcross 8th final at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia, Monday, Feb. 15, 2010. (AP Photo/Bela Szandelszky)

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