Alex Deibold rises from waxing boards to winning Olympic bronze
KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia -- It’s true that he showed the nerves of an assassin, executing an incredibly cold-blooded pass halfway down the snowboard cross course to snatch third place and ensure his spot on the podium. That was a cool moment for Alex Deibold. That was important.
But the most memorable vignette from an entire day of rain-soaked, crash-filled boardercross anarchy had transpired two races earlier, and Deibold figured in that one, too. In the first semifinal, coming off a jump preceding the sixth turn on a diabolical course -- ice topped with generous helpings of slush -- Deibold found himself airborne and trading paint with fellow American Trevor Jacob, a 20-year-old wunderkind with a red, white and blue motorcycle helmet -- think Peter Fonda in “Easy Rider” -- and a refreshing attitude toward SBX.
“I’m pretty ADD,” he’d admitted after Saturday’s practice. “I skateboard and snowboard, ride dirt bikes and snowmobiles. If I get bored of this, I’ll move on to something else.”
His attention most definitely did not wander during that mid-air mini-collision with Deibold, whom he calls “Google” (“the guy knows everything”), and whose shoulder he reflexively shoved. Flailing for equilibrium -- and standing up for himself, it looked like -- Deibold delivered an inadvertent shot to the nether regions of his countryman.
Miraculously, both riders remained upright, and kept racing, Jacob in third, Deibold in fourth. Top three advance to the finals. Jacob went incredibly big off the final jump, landing deeper than anyone had all day. But his board chattered left ever so slightly on landing, siphoning juuuuust enough speed to open a window for Deibold, who beat him by less than a foot. It was a sensational race, so much so that Jacob forgot to feel disappointment. So it seemed, afterward, when he was asked if Deibold’s low blow had caused him discomfort:
“When he hit me in the nuts? I didn’t even [feel it].”
Nor was Deibold feeling any pain when he crossed the line third in the final -- behind Pierre Vaultier of France and hometown favorite Nikolay Olyunin -- and was tackled by pre-race favorite Nate Holland, whose frustration at failing to get out of his opening heat was counterbalanced by his joy for a teammate who’d come up the hard way.
For the duration of his ten years with the national team, and as recently as X Games last month, Deibold has been both a friend to his teammates and, at the same time, a kind of servant. With dinner in their bellies, other riders would retire to their hotel rooms. Deibold, for his part, would go find Andy Buckley, wax technician for the US snowboard cross team. As a member of the squad’s “B” team, he was expected to lighten Buckley’s load. While other Americans rested up for the next day, Diebold would be tuning up their boards – helping to give them their best chance to beat him.
“It was tough,” said Deibold at the press conference, “but I’ve learned to enjoy the process. It was hard work that got me here.”
That, of course, is one of weariest bromides of this, or any Olympics. All Olympians work hard, right? Setting Deibold apart is the fact his hard work took the form of a kind of indentured servitude for his teammates. After barely missing out on making the Olympic team four years ago, he was invited to accompany the squad to Vancouver -- as Buckley’s assistant. While Holland, Nick Baumgartner, Grant Watanabe and eventual gold medalist Seth Westcott walked in the opening ceremonies and otherwise drew the marrow from their Olympic experience -- Deibold got about four hours of sleep per night while filing their edges and grinding and waxing and brushing their boards.
“It was really hard to sit back and watch them enjoy something that I wanted so badly,” he recalled on Tuesday, standing in a light rain at the bottom of the course, using an American flag as a kind of shawl, using Old Glory to exhibit patriotism and preserve body heat. “I used that as motivation.”
Thusly motivated, he went out and won something that they wanted very badly, in the process putting a new spin on another old bromide:
Nice guys finish third.