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Tomlinson brings U.S. Team up to speed

Yet another local athlete has earned his stripes of the red, white and blue variety.

As if Parkites needed further reason to follow elite winter sports, high school senior J.J. Tomlinson has been nominated to join the U.S. Snowboard Cross Team for the upcoming World Cup season.

An official U.S. lineup will be unveiled when athlete contracts are finalized in June, but Tomlinson is assured his place as the youngest member of a prolific group that includes two-time defending Olympic gold medalist Seth Wescott and five-time defending X Games champion Nate Holland.

"I think they’re trying to find their crew for (the 2014 Olympics in) Sochi," Tomlinson said. "It was a shocker. I had no expectation of making the U.S. team."

Snowboard cross is a race between four boarders who start simultaneously atop an inclined course with treacherous obstacles. The 18-year-old Winter Sports School student first drew serious attention from national team coaches at a World Cup event in Telluride last December. The U.S. had given Tomlinson one of its extra starting spots as the host country, and he responded by taking 16th in his top-level debut.

"He’s ahead of the curve, for sure," said U.S. Snowboard Cross head coach Jeff Archibald. "He seems really skilled, and his bag of tricks is pretty advanced. I’m super excited to have him added to the mix. It was just a no-brainer for us."

It was a remarkable day in Telluride for Tomlinson, who was a member of the Park City Snowboard Team and now rides for the PacSun Snowboard Team. Soon after he had held his own against international snowboard cross luminaries, the sport’s very brightest star – Wescott – informed Tomlinson he was invited to the Winter X Games in Aspen at the end of January.

"It was exciting to have two great things happen in one day," Tomlinson said. "I called my best friends back home to let them know, and then called the headmaster (Rob Clayton) at the Winter Sports School to say thanks because I owe so much of my success to them."

Wescott was the bearer of good news because he and Holland select the field for the X Games an apparent conflict of interests, but the duo didn’t do itself any competitive favors in selecting the rookie. Holland wound up edging out Wescott to defend his Snowboarder X title, while Tomlinson finished just outside the final group in fifth.

That result changed everything, Tomlinson said.

"It’s definitely a show out there," he said. "It was my first big, real event. It opened people’s eyes to me, because I kind of came out of nowhere."

In actual fact, he came from Rhode Island, moving to Park City about five years ago when parents Joe and Amy left with J.J.’s six younger sisters – including Lyla, who suffered from a severe mold allergy and would be safe in Utah’s dry climate.

Now 7, Lyla is one of five Tomlinson sisters who have followed their big brother’s bootsteps into snowboard racing. The other is just 1 ½ years old – barely big enough to stand on a board.

"We all like to go out and ride around together," said the 6-foot-3, 195-pound racer. "I know that they look up to me. Them seeing some of the opportunities that I’ve been given with this sport is definitely fueling their fire."

As a senior at the WSS, Tomlinson is currently hitting the books in preparation for the World Cup season (which starts in September). The Utah Olympic Park-based school once supported Julia Mancuso, Steven Holcomb and Ted Ligety – among myriad other winter prodigies – and Tomlinson said he often e-mails in assignments or takes tests from the road.

"The WSS is a very flexible school," he said. "They are used to dealing with these situations."

Amazingly, the action sports aficionado still makes time for a multitude of other passions – most of them both fast and dangerous.

Tomlinson bought a new motocross bike last year and once skateboarded competitively in the Tony Hawk Tour alongside childhood idols. He has also had success in kart racing, and will ride in the nation’s first-ever clean diesel racing series in the Volkswagen Jetta TDI Cup this summer, vying for more than $50,000 against 24 of the nations’ elite junior racers.

"I like speed," he explained. "These are all things I’ve been doing since I was little."

As if that weren’t enough to cram into a calendar, he also surfs and plays the guitar and piano. Tomlinson said snowboard cross is his No. 1 priority, but his contract doesn’t bar him from having fun.

His new coach, informed that Tomlinson had snapped one ankle tendon and tore another in a motocross accident last week, laughed before agreeing that Tomlinson is free to pursue other sports.

"He’s going full-tilt this summer," Archibald said. "Eventually, as we get closer to 2014, we’ll have to pare down his schedule a little bit, but I think it’s great."

Tomlinson will likely recover from his ankle injury within the next month or so. Nine years younger than the average top-32 World Cup competitor, he has a little time to get back on his feet.

He raced in Japan in his first overseas competition last year and went to another World Cup event in Italy after the X Games, but now September will see him begin some serious globetrotting on the full-time circuit.

Tomlinson said his immediate goal is to finish top 20 in the overall standings and establish himself as a contender for 2014.

"I don’t consider myself one of the big guys yet," Tomlinson said. "But in this sport, it’s anybody’s day, any day. People crash, people touch – you never know what’s going to happen."


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