Steamboat snowboarder Dierdorff confident in Olympic spot
The excitement of the process and the seriousness of the circumstances kept the pressure from ever overwhelming Steamboat Springs snowboarder Mick Dierdorff in the last month.
“There are plenty of things to stress about but also so many things to be excited for,” he said. “I’m having my best season ever and I’m in the hunt for an Olympic spot. It’s the best feeling ever. Having those things on my mind has kept the stress pretty minimal.”
Dierdorff has been in the midst of a tight fight with other members of the deep U.S. team in snowboard cross, hoping to lock up one of four spots at the 2018 Winter Olympics, which begin in less than three weeks in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Competitors had nearly a month to consider the ultra tight race between the fourth qualifying event, Dec. 22 in Italy, and the fifth and final event, Saturday in Turkey.
When that competition finally came, it went well, Dierdorff said, but not quite well enough to make the next couple of days easy.
He placed ninth, his fifth consecutive top-10 finish in the World Cup and an extension of what’s by far the best run of his career. But he didn’t get a finish on the podium, which would have guaranteed him a spot in Pyeongchang.
The Olympic team will be announced on Tuesday and there’s nothing left for Dierdorff to do but wait.
“The next couple days will be the toughest because it’s just sitting and waiting,” he said.
Dierdorff won his first two races to advance to the quarterfinals, but was third there, just inches away from a top-two finish that would have advanced him to the semifinals.
That left him in ninth.
“I’m not super happy with the ninth place but I was happy with my riding today,” he said. “I wasn’t having the best starts, as it really didn’t suit my riding style, but I felt like I had more speed than anyone on the rest of the course. I made some great passes and just missed advancing to the semifinal by inches.”
Nearly as important as his own finish, two other Americans slid in ahead of him on the day, Nick Baumgartner for fourth place and Hagen Kearney for fifth.
The result actually allowed Dierdorff to better his standing on the World Cup rankings list, moving up one spot to fifth. He’s the top-rated American rider, just ahead of Kearney, seventh, Baumgartner, 12th, Jonathan Cheever, 15th, Alex Deibold, 17th, and Nate Holland, 23rd.
Include veteran Seth Wescott, a two-time Olympic champion who attempted a comeback this season, and the group behind Dierdorff includes a combined eight Olympic starts, three Olympic medals and eight World Championship medals.
Dierdorff doesn’t have of any of any of those, but he’s been red hot this season.
Only one rider, Jonathan Cheever, had scored a podium finish heading into Saturday’s event, and that result locked Cheever into South Korea. Dierdorff also had a World Cup podium this season, but in the one World Cup that didn’t count in the U.S. qualifying process.
He was consistently one of the best on the team for nearly every other event, however, helping build that World Cup ranking.
Now that there are no more chances for athletes to earn a podium that would guarantee them a place in South Korea, the decision falls to the coaches, who will pick the remainder of the squad.
There, they can consider Dierdorff’s podium finish that fell outside the official qualifying period, and they can consider the consistent results that have him ranked near the top of the world.
He’s just going to have to wait a few days to see if it all pays off.
“I feel like I’m in a great place. It’s pretty stressful, but I’m stoked right now,” he said.
The graduates of Vail Mountain School’s class of 2019 will be off to far-flung destinations next fall, set to enter college in one of 16 different states or explore the world on a gap year. One grad is even attending college in Canada.