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February 19, 2014

Vaultier wins men’s snowboardcross at Olympics

KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — Pierre Vaultier stood atop the podium, feeling no pain from a knee held together by little more than a brace and cheek-biting grit.

Nikolay Olyunin, the 22-year-old underdog standing to his right, was quite content after giving the host country a good glimpse of his profession.

To their left, bronze medalist Alex Deibold was soaking up the attention of the U.S. team.

Behind them all, the favorites were washed away by bad luck, bad decisions — or both — on a course that deteriorated into a slushy, soggy snowball.

In other words, just another Tuesday in snowboardcross, the Olympic sport that sometimes is little more than a high-stakes lottery held at upward of 50 mph (80 kph) down the side of a mountain.

The jousting in front of Vaultier during the semifinals nearly cost him a shot at a medal. Apart from that, there was the relentless pursuit by Russia’s Olyunin, the man with the fastest board on a day when speed was in short supply. And the persistence of former wax technician Deibold, who buried four years of angst — and a teammate — on his way to salvaging a bit of American pride.

Vaultier stood above them all on a right knee with an ACL one wrong move away from a career-threatening implosion. Funny how the pain seemed to vanish the moment the 26-year-old crossed the finish line.

“I think I took off on the last jump and I did not land yet,” he said.

Happy landings were hard to come by in the rain at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park. Instead of the bluebird conditions that can feature the sometimes breathtaking mix of speed and precision snowboardcross provides, the third contest in the sport’s brief Olympic history was a battle of attrition.

Gold-medal favorite Nate Holland of the U.S. didn’t make it out of the opening round of elimination after mistiming a jump.

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