Vaultier wins top honor in snowboardcross event
By Will Graves ,AP February 19, 2014, 12:13 am TWN
KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia -- Pierre Vaultier of France held off hard-charging Nikolay Olyunin of Russia to win gold in men's Olympic snowboardcross on Tuesday.
Vaultier fended off several advances by Olyunin in the final, drawing clear over the final jumps to victory. The 26-year-old Vaultier won all four of his races in the midst of a steady drizzle that created plenty of the chaos — the signature of snowboarding's answer to auto racing.
Alex Deibold of the U.S. grabbed bronze after narrowly edging teammate Trevor Jacob in the semifinals.
The event was pushed back a day due to heavy fog, with officials modifying the format to cancel the seedings run and go straight to the elimination rounds.
Conditions weren't much better 24 hours later.
Tuesday's drizzle slowed the course and made chunky and unpredictable snow. Several riders failed to finish due to crashes.
Vaultier was able to steer clear and win France's third gold in Sochi.
While Vaultier won his first three races with relative ease, the final one was anything but a stroll down Rosa Khutor Extreme Park. Olyunin was dominant in zipping through to the finals, his board apparently having the answer to a course that wasn't that far removed from one big puddle.
Yet Olyunin didn't get off to the best start in the finals, lagging behind the first tabletop feature as Vaultier sprinted to the front. Three times it appeared Olyunin had a line to sneak by Vaultier through a turn. Three times Vaultier found a way to stay in front.
Olyunin's final bid came at the top of the final hill, but Vaultier pulled clear over the last two jumps to prevent Olyunin from pulling off one of the bigger upsets on the mountain since the games began.
Deibold got up gamely for bronze, though not without a little bit of luck. He passed Jacob at the finish line in the semifinals, sliding across the tape on his rear just in front of Jacob — who struggled with the final landing and was on his backside as well.
A wax technician for Team USA in Vancouver four years ago, Deibold took advantage of the reprieve to salvage a medal for a country that had won gold in this event during its first two iterations in the games.
Deibold and Jacob fared better than their more experienced teammates.
Nate Holland of the U.S., a seven-time X Games winner in this event, didn't make it out of the first round. He and Jacobs were well in front during their heat when Holland inexplicably lost his momentum after clearing one of the bigger jumps halfway down. He couldn't regain speed and ended up fourth.
Nick Baumgartner was a non-factor in his heat thanks to a board that didn't have enough juice.
At least they have their health. A handful of riders did not after a series of spills that is the sport's hallmark.
Italian rider Omar Visintin needed to be taken off on a stretcher after crashing in the semifinals, though he appeared to be communicating with medics as he was pulled away.
Cameron Bolton of Australia had lacerations on his face and needed a wrist to be taped up after washing out in the semifinals. He gamely tried to race in the consolation final but pulled up through his run.
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