Americans boarders grab green, but not gold at Sprint U.S. Grand Prix
February 14, 2012
A six-time Winter X Games gold medalist and two-time Olympian, Nate Holland knows how swiftly a snowboardcross race can get hectic. Four racers stand atop an Alpine-style course and eagerly await the gates to drop. Then, all hell breaks loose.
The 33-year-old found himself in the last heat of the day Sunday, the lone American representing the Stars & Stripes. He was already guaranteed the green U.S. National Champion jacket, since the weekend’s Sprint U.S. Snowboarding Grand Prix events also represented the American snowboardcross title races.
But coming out of the gates in the final heat, Holland, searching for a way to put a gold medal on his new green jacket, crashed.
Austrians Markus Schairer and Alessandro Haemmerle were also part of the final run, along with Australian Jarryd Hughes. The 16-year-old Hughes, on the biggest stage of his young career, took out one of the sport’s pioneers early in the final heat. Holland crashed and, much to his chagrin, had to settle for fourth place — an all-too-familiar spot for the U.S. icon, who also finished fourth at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver.
"Sitting one off the podium," he said at the bottom of Canyons’ Doc’s Run, "it’s a bittersweet spot. I remember this from the Olympics. It just doesn’t sting as hard."
Noticeably frustrated, Holland said the fall near the top of the run left a sour taste after he was guaranteed the U.S. green jacket with his place in the final heat. He said Hughes took Holland’s board "right out underneath me" when the two got tangled up.
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"When he rides away, it’s like the carpet getting pulled from underneath you," Holland explained. "There’s not much I could have done. Stoked for the title. Wish I would have gotten the win."
Schairer and Haemmerle went 1-2 in the men’s finals, while Hughes finished with the bronze.
Holland said Sunday’s race was an entirely different animal from what the snowboarders practiced on in the week leading up to the finale. A dry and cold week left the course icy and fast, but due to an unexpected dump snow on the course Sunday morning, the racing became trickier.
"(I’m) fired up Mother Nature’s cooperating with us now and it’s snowing," Holland said. "I’ve been begging for snow all winter long, and for it to come on a race day, I’m still loving it.
"It was tough racing in these conditions, but it’s snowboarding, and you have to be able to snowboard while it snows."
Nineteen-year-old Faye Gulini of Salt Lake City, who was back in action for just the second time in 10 months since suffering a torn ACL, grabbed second place and, more importantly, the U.S. green jacket as the highest-placing American female in the women’s finals Sunday.
"I needed this," she said. "I needed a little confidence booster."
After suffering the serious knee injury in March 2011, Gulini said it took five-days-a-week of rehab during a sixth-month period to get back to the point where she felt like she could successfully race again.
"It was long," said the Westminster College student, laughing.
She said in her first World Cup event following her injury, she was tentative, afraid to test herself in a competitive environment. But Sunday’s silver medal and the title of U.S. Champion helped eradicate that for the time being.
"It’s intimidating," she said. "I’m always scared, but it is nice and way fun. Still second, still happy."
Canadian Dominique Maltias finished first in the women’s finals after Bulgarian Alexandra Jekova, who led handily for much of the final heat, crashed while out front.
"The conditions were really different today, so I had to put everything together and you have to change the way you’re racing," Maltias said. "It’s part of the game."