Snowboard Cross Makes Winter Olympics Debut

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Mattias Blomberg of Sweden leads from Sylvain Duclos of France i

Mattias Blomberg of Sweden leads from Sylvain Duclos of France during the Mens Snowboard Cross Qualifying Cross, Feb. 16. Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Getty Images
Mattias Blomberg of Sweden leads from Sylvain Duclos of France

Mattias Blomberg of Sweden leads from Sylvain Duclos of France during the Mens Snowboard Cross Qualifying Cross, Feb. 16.

Getty Images

The event of snowboard cross, or SBX, is making its Olympic debut at the Winter Games in Turin. Four snowboarders race down a course at the same time in the event, dodging each other, while darting over challenging terrain. Members of the U.S. team talk about the challenge.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

An American has won the first gold medal in a new Olympic event gets under way called snowboard cross, or SBX.

Here's the drill: Four snowboard racers speed down a course at the same time, dodging each other while darting around gates, over jumps, and challenging terrain. The competitors can make contact while maneuvering for position, although pushing is not allowed.

The American Men's winner was Seth Wescott and the women race tomorrow. NPR's Chris Arnold recently visited the slopes to talk to the United States Team.

CHRIS ARNOLD reporting:

In the world of snowboard cross, there's one woman who's just about unstoppable; team member Lindsey Jacobellis, who grew up skiing and snowboarding in Vermont.

Jacobellis won World and National Championships in 2005, the year before she went the entire season undefeated, and she's a favorite for the gold here in Turin. But setting her snowboard down by the chair lift at the SBX course, Jacobellis says she still gets butterflies waiting to start her race.

Ms. LINDSEY JACOBELLIS (Snowboard Cross-, United States): I'm nervous before every race, but that's part of my MO, so... I just kind of what has to happen, and that's part of my nervous energy is just the horrible feeling but it's the adrenaline, it's the blood pumping through your legs to get all your muscles ready and fired up. Sending all those quick reaction twitch muscles going, you know?

ARNOLD: But once she hits the course, with three other snowboarders fighting for position around her, Jacobellis says she loves the intensity.

Ms. JACOBELLIS: It's definitely, the adrenaline kicks in and you just feel unstoppable. And you're having a blast going through, and you're going really fast but you're in the rhythm of the course so it just feels right; it doesn't feel scary, it feels empowering. It feels really cool.

ARNOLD: Snowboard cross, or boarder-cross, as some call it, came out of the X-Games, which are geared towards a younger audience with events that are fun to watch and that have a danger factor.

In one winter X-Game sport, competitors drive off-road motorcycles in the snow over jumps, doing crazy aerial stunts on their bikes like full back flips.

There are no motorbikes racing in the Alps above Turin, for better or for worse that event is not yet in the Olympics, but snowboard cross has a danger element too. With four racers coming down the same course together, they at times run into each other; and so even a favorite to win like Jacobellis can get knocked out of the competition if another racer crashes into her.

Ms. JACOBELLIS: That's boarder-cross, and unfortunately that's something that can happen. It' happened to me a couple times and its a real bummer, but those are things you can't control. So, when you're racing you only have to focus on things that you can control, and that's basically yourself. I mean, you can't control the other three people alongside you.

ARNOLD: Jacobellis races on Friday, and she's about done with her practice runs here. She brings her snowboard over to Curtis Baccha(ph), the team's board waxer, as she heads off the hill.

Mr. CURTIS BACCHA: Are you going to just cruise around, or what's your program?

Ms. JACOBELLIS: Probably not, I'm probably going to give my knee a full, like, day off.

Mr. BACCHA: Perfect, so like, just bring it up there at your leisure, get it in the room and I'll put a base, I'd like to put a base coat on now just to keep her rolling.

Ms. JACOBELLIS: This is top secret information.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ARNOLD: The United States men's team suffered a setback this week when Jason Hale injured his knee. Hale is one of the best riders in the world, but today his teammate Seth Wescott won the gold medal in a dramatic final race where Wescott was in second place. He managed to blow past a rider from Slovakia. He crossed the finish line just half a snowboard length ahead to win the gold.

Chris Arnold, NPR News, Turin.

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