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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Winter Olympics: Snowboardcross steals some spotlight from downhill

AP Sports Writer

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Those new age snowboarders went head-to-head against the crown jewel of all ski races on Day 4 of the Olympics — and the guys in the baggy suits might have stolen the day.

Traditionalists will cringe at the suggestion, but Seth Wescott’s come-from-behind win the men’s snowboardcross final on Monday was every bit as compelling as Swiss skier Didier Defago’s victory in the men’s downhill.
“There is a different aspect,” Wescott said, “when you have people racing head-to-head on the hill.”
The event is only in the Winter Games for the second time, but already, it’s raising a question. Could snowboardcross eventually become a signature event of the Olympics, even overtaking the prestigious downhill?
One might have expected a rousing “You bet” type of answer from Wescott, but the American was analytical when discussing why his victory — not Defago’s — might be the top watercooler topic for the next few days.
“I’ve been a fan of ski racing a majority of my life,” Wescott said. “And, to me, it’s thrilling. But to the average person who doesn’t understand the nuances of the edge control and all that stuff, it’s maybe not so amazing to see. I think the interesting thing for people watching snowboardcross is to watch the head-to-head aspect and see people come from behind.”
The snowboardcross-downhill head-to-head was totally accidental. The downhill was supposed to be run Saturday, but weather forced a postponement for the high-speed daredevils in the skintight suits. Wescott said he was “bummed” over that development because he wanted to watch fellow American Bode Miller, who won bronze behind Defago and Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal.
GOOD-LUCK CHARMS: The Swiss Olympic team might just have found its lucky mascots.
They were at Whistler Olympic Park on Saturday to see ski jumper Simon Ammann, and on Monday morning scored two of the last batch of finish-area tickets for the men’s downhill at Whistler Creekside.
Students Roger Berchtold and Urs Wagner fom Lucerne, Switzerland, have witnessed their nation’s first two gold medals at the games. For Swiss sports fans, it was the best place to be.
“The men’s downhill is the royal discipline,” Berchtold said. “It’s like the 100 meters in athletics.”
They hoped their $108 investments would get them a close-up view of a Swiss win for Didier Cuche: Instead, they got a pleasant surprise to celebrate Didier Defago’s gold medal run.
Berchtold, who’s 20, and 21-year-old Wagner weren’t born when Switzerland last won the marquee Alpine event in 1988.
They plan on hopping between Vancouver and Whistler to catch some action during the rest of the games. Wagner then heads home after a four-month trip across North America, while Berchtold is just starting his, to travel and work in language schools.
“Our friends are crazy with jealousy because they’re not here,” Wagner said.
YOU’VE GOT TO BE COLD IN THAT: These may be the Winter Olympics, but the small delegation from Bermuda isn’t going to refrain from wearing the island nation’s famous shorts.
Cross-country skier Tucker Murphy made sure his Argentine coach Martin Bianchi didn’t get out of it either.
Murphy, who became the first Bermudian to compete in an Olympic cross-country race when he finished 88th out of 95 starters in Monday’s 15-kilometer event, brought Bianchi along as his support staff in Vancouver. However, he said Bianchi had second thoughts when he realized he had to join Tucker in donning bright red Bermuda shorts at Friday’s opening ceremony.
“He was very embarrassed,” Tucker said. “He was worried that everyone back in Argentina would see him and laugh. ... Then he realized that all the girls wanted to take pictures with him, so he got over it fairly quickly.”
The 28-year-old Tucker, who started skiing after moving to New Hampshire to attend Dartmouth College, finished 9 minutes, 2.8 seconds behind winner Dario Cologna of Switzerland in Monday’s race.