ASPEN — Snowboardcross is back in the USA.
Whether that translates back in the old USSR remains to be seen, but American coaches are hoping Friday's gold-medal sweep of men's and women's boarder X by Americans Nate Holland and Lindsey Jacobellis at the Winter X Games is a sign of things to come at the Winter Olympics in Sochi.
“Our qualification system is tough, but it makes the athletes progress and get faster right up to the Olympics,” U.S. Snowboarding coach Peter Foley said after the final qualifying race in Aspen. “They have spent the last several weeks getting better and better and stronger.”
After a series of tough-luck injuries to top American riders such as Holland and Jacobellis in the homegrown sport pitting groups of snowboarders in mass-start, head-to-head racing on a track of sculpted snow, the historically dominant U.S. has jockeyed itself into position for a late run at Olympic gold.
“I'm so stoked to be back on top and I'm just going to carry this momentum,” Holland said after winning his seventh X Games gold medal just a few months after undergoing shoulder surgery. The event wasn't conducted in last year's X Games.
[Photo gallery: Action from the Winter X Games in Aspen]
“We go to Russia here pretty soon,” Holland said, “and I'm confident now that I am where I should be. And I'm fired up.”
In the short history of Olympic snowboardcross, the men's gold medal has never gone to anyone who isn't American. Since its debut at the Turin Games in 2006, in fact, it hasn't been won by anyone other than American Seth Wescott.
Wescott won't be in Russia to defend his back-to-back Olympic victories, left off the team that includes Holland, Nick Baumgartner, Trevor Jacob and Alex Deibold.
After losing the past two seasons to knee surgeries, Jacobellis is the only confirmed racer on the U.S. women's team that will be formally announced Saturday. But when it comes to the Olympics, the winningest snowboardcross racer — male or female — in the history of the sport may be best known for two high-profile losses.
In 2006, Jacobellis blew an otherwise insurmountable lead when she crashed while attempting a trick off a jump just before the finish line, settling for silver. Favored again in 2010, she accidentally rode off course and was disqualified.
“I'm hoping the third time is the charm,” Jacobellis said after winning her eighth X Games gold medal, with her right thumb in a cast after yet another surgery. “The pressure that I put on myself is pretty much the hard part. ... I just have to go do what I do.”
With athletes from the Czech Republic, Norway and Japan finishing on Jacobellis' heels at the X Games and American Alex Tuttle finishing just behind Holland and ahead of bronze medalist Konstantin Schad of Germany, the current worldwide parody in snowboardcross makes picking favorites in Sochi a challenge.
Just don't bet against the Americans.
“To come here and do this, to win at the X Games, is huge for my confidence and for my riding and I'm looking forward to throwing one down the barrel in Sochi and beating the world,” Holland said. “I'm going in guns blazing.”