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Nate Holland secures first Winter X five-peat

Jon Maletz
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
David Zalubowski/APNate Holland, of Squaw Valley, Calif., celebrates after his victory in Saturday's Winter X Games boardercross final at Buttermilk near Aspen.
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ASPEN – Nate Holland’s drive for five is complete.

The Squaw Valley, Calif., native overcame a slow start in Saturday’s Winter X boardercross final – after near disaster in his semifinal heat – to overtake fellow U.S. Olympic team member Seth Wescott and claim a record fifth-consecutive gold.

“You know, I was just trying to ride as best I can. This is a killer course, and Wescott fully gave me a run for my money,” Holland said in the finish area. “I can’t believe it, a five-peat. I was stoked when I won this thing for the first time.”

This year’s road to victory might have been his toughest ever. After a slow start, Holland found himself in fourth place at the start of the semifinals. He somehow managed to avert a large pile-up that sent three riders crashing off course soon after, and settled into second.

(Austrian Olympian Max Schairer, a 2008 Winter X silver medalist, lay on the ground for a long period while being tended to my medical personnel. The 22-year-old, who doctors said experienced “head trauma”, was ultimately carted off the hill in a sled.)

Wescott, the top qualifier who has made 13 Winter X appearances and never won gold, looked primed to pick up his first victory after vaulting into the lead early in the final. He was caught off balance, however, on the 3,500-foot course’s long section of rollers, allowing Holland to seize the lead.

Wescott made one final push, but Holland summoned the energy to gain some separation down the stretch. Wescott held off Italian Olympian Alberto Schiavon in a photo finish to nab silver.

“I don’t know, I think I feed off … high-pressure situations,” Holland said. “This is amazing. I love this hill, love Aspen. The X Games, it’s killer.

“Definitely, I’m fired up [for the Olympics]. It’s a good confidence booster. I’m going to have to get up there and ride my heart out like I did today.”

Lindsey Jacobellis’ fall on the final jump of 2007’s Winter X boardercross final is all but forgotten now.

The Stratton, Vt., native picked up her third consecutive gold Saturday afternoon, overcoming illness, a field that included five Olympians and a late surge from Norwegian Helene Olafsen.

South Lake Tahoe, Calif.’s Joanie Anderson finished third.

The boardercross three-peat is Jacobellis’ second; she finished on top of the podium in 2004, 2005 and 2006. One year later, she squandered the lead with a tumble off the course’s final jump.

“I didn’t have a great start, so I knew I had to be savvy all the way down, make quick decisions – and smart ones,” Jacobellis said Saturday. “Winning always boosts confidence. To attack a course like this, it feels great.

“Helene is a great rider.You know, I knew if I made any mistakes she would capitalize on it.”

Olafsen took the lead after flying out of the start, but Jacobellis bided her time and finally spotted a chance to make her move. She was nearly flawless through the rhythm section, keeping her board flat against the snow to pick up speed and gain ground.

Soon after, she sped past Olafsen for good in her final competitive tune-up before February’s Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

“I’m so happy to get to represent my country again,” Jacobellis said Saturday.

Jacobellis will be looking to atone for a 2006 gaffe at Winter Games in Italy. The 24-year-old, leading by about 50 yards, attempted a mute grab off the final jump, landed awkwardly and fell. She had to settle for silver in her first Olympics appearance.

Breckenridge’s Bobby Brown was perfect in Friday’s ski big air competition.

Saturday, he made history.

The 18-year-old laid down a near-flawless final run in slopestyle – one that included a switch double misty 1260 off the final hit – to nab a score of 94.33. The effort was good enough to top 2008 winner Andreas Hatveit of Norway, who settled for second with a 92. Hood River, Ore.’s Sammy Carlson (89.33) took third, and Basalt’s Matt Walker (83) was fifth.

Step aside, Tanner Hall, Simon Dumont and other skiing giants. With the win, Brown became the first skier in Winter X history to win two golds in one year.

“Last night when I won gold in big air I was freaking out,” Brown said. “Right now, I’m obviously freaking out twice as much. This is crazy.”

Friday, Brown wowed judges and the crowd with a switch-double misty 1440 – four full rotations. He twice received perfect scores of 50 from the judges.

That momentum continued Saturday. He overtook Hatveit on the second run with a 93, then bolstered his lead in the final round with a run commentators called one of the best in the sport’s history. He was solid on the rails, then set him self apart with some jaw-dropping aerials.

After Brown’s score was announced, cameras caught Hatveit grinning and shrugging his shoulders as he stood in the start area. Later, after coming up a few points short, Hatveit was quick to offer his congratulations to Brown.

Brown was sixth in slopestyle in Aspen last year.

jmaletz@aspentimes.com


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