Reuters - Tue, 16 Feb 02:47:00 2010
Seth Wescott pulled in a huge lead on the final jump to defend his Olympic snowboard cross title, leaving another Canadian to settle for second best against an ice-cool American rival.
The American, who was wearing ultra-cool loose snowboard trousers designed to look like well-worn blue jeans, pumped his arm after crossing the finish line in a near photo finish just ahead of Canadian Mike Robertson.
Wescott, who won the sport's debut gold in Turin, started the race in the back of the four-man pack but then began to make his move after team-mate Nate Holland spun out about halfway through.
Cheered on by the partisan Cypress Mountain crowd, Robertson had led for most of the race where four athletes face off in snowboard's version of motocross along a long course full of steep turns and jumps.
But then Wescott passed France's Tony Ramoin then pulled even with Robertson as they neared the final turn and jump of the long, technically challenging course.
As is often the case in the anything-can-happpen sport of snowboard cross, the Canadian lost ground when he made a slight mistake and when the American took a tighter line in the final turn.
Wescott then soared ahead of Robertson on the final jump, crossing the finish line first in a dramatic end to the race.
The crowd, which had been chanting Robertson's name and seeming sure of his victory, seemed stunned into silence at the very end when Wescott pulled it out in the end.
"I think I felt them collectively get bummed out when I made the pass," Wescott said.
Robertson said he felt in control throughout the race, until he came up short on the last jump.
"As soon as I came up short on that jump I knew someone was going to pass me. But whatever, this happens," said Robertson, whose close miss for gold mirrored his freestyle skiing team-mate Jenn Heil who was pipped by American Hannah Kearney for gold in the moguls on Saturday.
Ramoin took the bronze behind Robertson.
Several of the medal favourites, including France's Pierre Vaultier and American Graham Watanabe, crashed out before the semi-finals.
Factbox on Wescott:
Place of birth: Durham, North Carolina, United States
Residence: Carrabassett, Maine, United States
Previous Olympic results:
Gold medallist, 2006 Winter Olympics, snowboard cross
Gold medallist, 2005 World Championships, snowboard cross
Silver medallist, 2007 World Championships, snowboard cross
Silver medallist, 2003 World Championships, snowboard cross Runner-up, 2008/09 World Cup, snowboard cross
Double Olympic gold medallist Wescott began concentrating solely on snowboarding when he was 13, having previously also skied competitively. He started competing in the cross event in 1997.
He became the first snowboard cross gold medallist in Turin at its inaugural Olympic appearance in 2006. He celebrated the victory with a military service flag issued to his family at the funeral of his grandfather after his father had evaded security to hand it to him.
He has suffered a host of injuries in the bruising sport, including anterior cruciate knee ligament damage, a broken forearm and a sore pelvis.
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