Grand Prix, Grand Day

Sucking up rollers, cruising over step up jumps, speeding through turns neck-and-neck with three other riders. Sounds wild, but it’s all in a days work for snowboardcross athletes.  Last week Canyons Resort hosted the Sprint U.S. Snowboarding Grand Prix which was a huge success.  Utah’s reputation for legendary blue skies and sunshine was not tarnished as the race organizers could not have ordered better weather for the event! Not to mention the course was in perfect condition for a world-class competition.     

A view of the bottom of the course

I woke up Saturday morning and was surprised to feel something reminiscent to race day butterflies.  Since retiring last spring, I haven’t experienced the jitters very often.  I surmised that the reason for my nervous energy was that I would, in a way, be performing as well.  As Versus’ sideline reporter for the event, I was going to have to be dynamic and versatile, albeit with my words, not my actions down the mountain.     

The 32 men and 8 women that had the fastest qualifying times from Friday’s individual time trials advanced to the finals on Saturday.  Snowboardcross is a thrilling spectator sport and people came in droves to Canyons’ new base area to watch the excitement unfold.  Many of the best riders in the world were competing – Graham Watanabe, Nate Holland, Lindsey Jacobellis – to name a few.  Having competed in the Olympics with a number of them, there were definitely some dear friends in the mix.  As the event was about to begin, I had a rush of vicarious eagerness for my buddies about to, in any normal person’s eyes, throw themselves down a path of craziness.   

To predict the podium in snowboardcross, especially at such a high level competition, is nearly impossible.  With the jockeying for position comes the inevitable contact that is the heart of snowboardcross’s dicey nature.  There is so much going on that it is not out of the ordinary for a favorite to go down early.  Simultaneously racing with three other riders on a flat slope (think chinese downhill when you were a kid) is one thing. But when you add the huge air and technical features of the course, it ‘s a whole different ball game.     

On the women’s side, due to some early trouble, Callan Chythlook-Sifsof had to settle with winning the consolation final for 5th place.  In the big final Faye Gulini’s jumping prowess gave Lindsey a run for her money. But in the end the proven winner staved off her younger teammate and not surprisingly rose, yet again, victorious.     

A collision in the round of eight took out reigning X-Games champ Nick Baumgartner, and U.S. Teamers Nate Holland and Alex Deibold were knocked out in the quarterfinals.  Arguably the most exciting run of the day was Heat 2 in the men’s semifinals between Canadian Kevin Hill and U.S. National Team members Jayson Hale, Graham Watanabe and Canyons’ own Jonathan Cheever.  Watching four amazing athletes ride abreast down that course was a sight to see.  Flying through the air, generating speed and changing positions all the way down, Hill and Cheever were the first two across the finish line.  Also advancing to the big final were Austrian Markus Schairer and Frenchman Tony Ramoin. So, Cheever, being the only American to make the top four, had already claimed his title as U.S. National Champion.  In the last heat of the day Hill nabbed the top spot with Cheever less than a board length behind. But even that couldn’t wipe the grin off of Cheever’s gnarled face (During training the course gave him the equivalent of a right hook, but in the end, he conquered the hill getting the last laugh)!     

The National Champ and me

The most rewarding part of my day was seeing the athlete’s intensity, focus, and love for what they were doing displayed on their faces while I interviewed them.  As someone that has been in their shoes, competing at a big-time competition, I so appreciate the little subtleties of personality and strategy.  I had my fair share of gaffes and mumbled questions (I’m still very new at broadcasting and continue to improve, but thank goodness for editing), but I hope that I conveyed to each rider in our shared 30 seconds that I respected them and was rooting for them.     

Once the last interview was shot, which just so happened to be with Canyons’ mascot Murdcock the Moose, I felt I had earned a cold beverage and kicked back to listen to Fuel give a free concert right in the middle of the village.  People asked if being at a big event like the Grand Prix made me miss competing on the World Cup.  As I looked out at all of the people enjoying the festivities, savoring Chef Murcko’s melt-in-your-mouth brisket, sipping their refreshments, bobbing their heads to the music, and generally just having a fabulous time, I was able to answer, without the least bit of hesitation, “Nope, this is without a doubt where I want to be.”     

Make sure to tune in and watch the Sprint U.S. Snowboarding Grand Prix when it airs this coming weekend:
February 19: 2:00pm EST on NBC Sports
February 19: 4:00pm EST on Versus    

Workin' it (or trying to)

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