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The race takes less than 90 seconds, although no one bothers to time it because all that matters is where you finish, if you finish. And it is so unpredictable that not even a lucky loonie could help the Canadians on Tuesday.
This is snowboard cross, one of the so-called extreme events at the Winter Olympics where six racers fly down a hill, jumping over bumps, negotiating steep inclines and trying like heck to avoid crashing into the next guy.
Tuesday’s men’s final followed the sport’s tradition of predicable unpredictability. Even the weather kept everyone guessing. The race had been postponed from Monday because of thick fog and by the start time Tuesday morning a steady rain began to fall and low clouds rolled across the course, making visibility tricky at times.
The damp conditions, foggy weather and soft snow meant there were crashes galore, some serious enough to break one racer’s wrist, another one’s ankle and cause the top boarder in the world to be carried away on a stretcher. All four Canadians wiped out in the early elimination rounds, with Vernon, B.C.’s, Kevin Hill advancing the farthest.
Hill, 27, got into the semi-final and looked to be on track to qualify for the final when he was clipped by another rider’s snowboard from behind and fell face first into the snow.
“I was sitting in second and felt like I was going to the final, like my plan. Next thing you know I was on my face, my goggles were in four pieces,” Hill said after the race, sporting nasty scrapes across his chin and nose. “It’s out of my hands… I did everything I could and that’s just what happens.”
And that’s what just about all of the racers said Tuesday; snowboard cross is as much about luck as it is about preparation and ability. Consider the medalists. Gold went to France’s Pierre Vaultier, 26, who is ranked 61 in the world and injured his knee so badly two months ago he raced in Sochi wearing a brace. Silver went to a relative unknown, Russia’s Nikolay Olyunin, a 22-year old Siberian, and the bronze to American Alex Deibold, 27, considered such a longshot by his own coaches he’d been put on the “B team” and worked as a wax technician at the last Olympics.
“I’ll enjoy not waxing my own boards for a while,” he quipped after the race.
“You can be so on it but things can go so out of your control that’s part of the sport,” said Canada’s Chris Robanske, 24, who was considered a medal hope but wiped out in the quarter-finals. “But also that’s why it’s so great when you do win, because luck was on your side, you were riding well, the stars were aligning that day.”
Robanske tempted fate Tuesday, trying to improve the Canadians’ luck by burying a loonie near the finish line. “Unfortunately it looks like it didn’t play out so well today,” he said. When asked if he was going to dig the coin out and take it home, Robanske replied: “Think so, might as well.”