Typical of the wild snowboardcross races where the results are not determined until the final deciding run, the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association announced on Saturday its selection of seven snowboardcross athletes for the 2014 Winter Olympics.
With just a day to spare before the USOC selection deadline, the USSA federation chose four men and three women to join the nearly-packed “Sochi Express” train with 200+ athletes who have already punched their tickets.
Similar to other national sport team decision-making, USSA selected a squad comprised of athletes who outright met set qualification criteria, or who received a “discretionary nod” of approval.
Four athletes sealed the deal by notching a top-four finish at a FIS World Cup Snowboardcross event this season – a standard set by USSA. In these competitions, each battled through a series of jarring, hell-bent races to rise above the rest of the pack to land a final four spot.
Torino 2006 Olympics silver medalist Lyndsey Jacobellis, who is currently ranked second in the world, was the first to qualify. Olympic veteran Nate Holland, as well as newly inaugurated Alex Diebold and Trevor Jacob, were next to break this barrier.
Within its overall FIS snowboard team quota allotment, USSA opted to select three more boarders. Olympic veteran Faye Gulini and newcomer Jackie Hernandez were hand-chosen based on their top twenty ranking in the FIS standings.
On the men’s side however, controversy brewed. With one more spot still up for grabs, 2010 Olympian Nick Baumgartner and two-time Olympics gold medalist Seth Wescott were in the running for the final coach’s decision.
Baumgartner, who raced to a top ten finish three times this season, has the best world cup ranking (seventh) among the American men.
“I don’t want to sound cocky, but as of right now I feel like the strongest rider on the team,” said Baumgartner in an NBC interview.
Yet, sentimental favorite Wescott was still in contention – despite a mere 31st finish in a late season contest, due to his still recovering from ACL knee surgery in April.
About his chances, Wescott said, “I have the best history of anyone on the U.S. team at major events, worlds, X Games, Olympics. If they’re looking at fielding a team, they’re looking at fielding who’s going to bring medals. That definitely has to weigh in some.”
The final chance to make their case was at the X Games snowboardcross event on Friday. Soon after each was eliminated in the quarterfinals, the U.S. coaches informed Baumgartner of his being tapped for the Sochi Olympics.
“Half the goal was to make the team. Now my goal is winning a medal and bringing it back to Michigan,” said Baumgartner who finished 20th at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
The 37-year-old Wescott now sets his sights on qualifying for the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.