Holland makes it five straight at Winter X | PostIndependent.com

Holland makes it five straight at Winter X

Pat Graham
The Associated Press
Post Independent
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

ASPEN, Colorado – Snowboardcross rider Nate Holland was cruising along in his semifinal run when a spray of snow suddenly shielded his vision and a pileup of crashed snowboarders cluttered his path.

No time to think, Holland plunged onward, hopping over one fallen rider, steering just clear of another.

This smashup was the biggest obstacle Holland had to overcome on his way to becoming the first Winter X Games athlete to win five straight titles, a feat he accomplished Saturday in the finals of Snowboarder X.

Lindsey Jacobellis won the women’s event for her third straight crown.

The pileup in the men’s semis left Holland and others in the field a little shaken.

Sure, accidents are part of this sport’s culture. Happen all the time, in fact.

This one, though, was particularly gnarly.

U.S. rider Graham Watanabe started the chain reaction when he wiped out midway down the course, taking with him a good portion of the field. World champion snowboarder Max Schairer of Austria was caught in the middle, toppling over and slamming hard into one of the bumps.

Schairer stayed down on the snow long after the race was over, then was carted off the mountain and transported to the hospital for further evaluation. He was later released with a mild concussion, fractured ribs and a bruised chest.

The image of the accident haunted Holland, who had to collect his thoughts for the final. He didn’t want to know anything about the wreck until after the event was over.

It was easier that way.

“I was in a really, really, somber mood, trying to keep my intensity up but just really thinking the best wishes up there for him,” Holland said. “It’s part of it. We know the risks of it.”

Holland was all business in the final, taking the lead midway through the course and holding off U.S. teammate Seth Wescott, the defending Olympic champion, to etch his name into the X Games record books.

“It’s pretty surreal,” Holland said. “To win a big event like this against a field of riders that are out here is quite an honor. To do it once, I remember how fired up I was. To do it five times, I don’t know, what do I say? It’s really surreal right now.”

For Wescott, it was another close call in an event he just can’t quite solve at the X Games, running his mark to 0 for 13.

Wescott wasn’t about to risk everything for gold, though. Once Holland passed him, he played it safe, not wanting to risk an injury with the Vancouver Olympics two weeks away.

“The second half of the run, I tried to be mellow,” Wescott said. “I braked a lot up there and cruised to the finish. The Olympics is a bigger deal.”

Wescott insisted before and after the race the hex doesn’t bog him down. He doesn’t think about it, especially not this time.

“I wasn’t willing to risk an injury in there,” Wescott said. “This was a good race today.”

Falling behind early, Jacobellis passed Norway’s Helene Olafsen on a series of bumps. Olafsen wound up second and Joanie Anderson took third.

“Made a couple of mistakes,” Olafsen said. “If you make a mistake, Lindsey’s there.”

Jacobellis was a little under the weather Saturday, waking up congested and feeling dizzy.

It didn’t show. Now, Jacobellis heads into Vancouver with a head of steam.

This time around, she is determined to enjoy the Olympic experience a whole lot more.

And not because her blunder in Turin cost her gold. She had the title all but sewn up in 2006, before trying to show off on the last jump and falling, forcing her to settle for silver.

“It was really, really a lot happening for a young kid,” the 24-year-old Jacobellis said. “Hopefully, with some experience going into it this year, it will be good.”

Holland goes into the Olympics at the top of his game, too.

Then again, he was in this position before, after kicking off his X Games streak in 2006. But that didn’t work out so well in Turin. Holland is quick to point out that he wrecked in his first race at the Olympics.

“I’m confident in my riding,” Holland said. “I’m going to ride my heart out.”

That run Gretchen Bleiler has been trying to perfect?

Well, all the parts finally mixed together as she won the women’s snowboard superpipe Saturday night. She scored a 96.66 to defeat Kelly Clark by .66 and win her fourth gold medal in the event.

Bleiler had good height on her stunts, and pulled off that corked 900 she’s been thinking about. That was enough to pull an upset over Clark, her American teammate, who had won four of the five pre-Olympic events coming into the X Games.

“I finally went with the gravity of the halfpipe instead of fighting against it,” said Bleiler, who’s from Aspen. “It felt right.”

Defending Olympic champion Hannah Teter finished third, as the Americans swept the podium just in time for Vancouver.

Clark put down a high-flying run to take the early lead, only to be surpassed by Bleiler.

“Gretchen rode amazing, Hannah rode great,” Clark said. “One of the best women’s finals.”

Bobby Brown won the men’s skiing slopestyle title, his second crown of the X Games competition.

Brown, who’s from nearby Breckenridge, captured the Big Air title the night before.

“I had probably 20 people come to watch me,” Brown said. “Today, it really helped because I had no energy after last night.”

The Winter X Games set an attendance record Saturday as 34,500 fans showed up for the events. The previous mark was 32,000 set in 2000 when the games were in Mount Snow, Vt.

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