Published January 30, 2010
ASPEN, Colo. (AP) — Snowboardcross rider Nate Holland was cruising along in his semifinal run when a spray of snow suddenly shielded his vision, a pileup of crashed snowboarders cluttered his path.
No time to think, Holland plunged onward, hopping over one fallen rider, steering just clear of another.
This smashup was the biggest obstacle Holland had to overcome on his way to becoming the first Winter X Games athlete to win five straight titles, a feat he accomplished Saturday in the finals of Snowboarder X.
Lindsey Jacobellis won the women's event for her third straight title.
The pileup in the men's semis left Holland and others in the field a little shaken.
Sure, accidents are part of this sport's culture. Happen all the time, in fact.
This one, though, was particularly gnarly.
U.S. rider Graham Watanabe started the chain reaction when he wiped out midway down the course, taking with him a good portion of the field. World champion snowboarder Max Schairer of Austria was caught in the middle, toppled over and slammed hard into one of the bumps.
Schairer stayed down on the snow long after the race was over, then was carted off the mountain and transported to the hospital for more evaluation. He was later released with a mild concussion, fractured ribs and a bruised chest.
The image of the accident haunted Holland, who had to collect his thoughts for the finals. He didn't want to know anything about the wreck until after the event was over.
It was easier that way.
"I was in a really, really, somber mood, trying to keep my intensity up but just really thinking the best wishes up there for him," Holland said. "It's part of it. We know the risks of it."
Holland was all business in the finals, taking the lead midway through the course and holding off U.S. teammate Seth Wescott, the defending Olympic champion, to etch his name into the X Games record books.
"It's pretty surreal," Holland said. "To win a big event like this against a field of riders that are out here is quite an honor. To do it once, I remember how fired up I was. To do it five times, I don't know, what do I say? It's really surreal right now."
For Wescott, it was another close call in an event that he just can't quite solve at the X Games, running his mark to 0 for 13.
Wescott wasn't about to risk everything for gold, though. Once Holland passed him, he played it safe, not wanting to risk an injury with the Vancouver Olympics two weeks away.
"The second half of the run, I tried to be mellow," Wescott said. "I braked a lot up there and cruised to the finish. The Olympics is a bigger deal."
Wescott insisted before and after the race the hex doesn't bog him down. He doesn't think about it, especially not this time.
"I wasn't willing to risk an injury in there," Wescott said. "This was a good race today."
Earlier, Jacobellis captured her third straight title. Falling behind early, Jacobellis passed Norway's Helene Olafsen on a series of bumps and really never looked back. Olafsen wound up second and Joanie Anderson took third.
"Made a couple of mistakes," Olafsen said. "If you make a mistake, Lindsey's there."
Jacobellis was a little under the weather Saturday, waking up congested and feeling dizzy.
It didn't show. Now, Jacobellis heads into Vancouver with a head of steam.
This time around, she vows to enjoy the Olympic experience a whole lot more.
And not because her blunder in Turin cost her gold. She had the title all but sewn up in 2006, before trying to show off on the last jump and falling, forcing her to settle for silver.
"It was really, really a lot happening for a young kid," the 24-year-old Jacobellis said. "Hopefully, with some experience going into it this year, it will be good."
Holland goes into the Olympics at the top of his game, too.
Then again, he was in this position before, after kicking off his X Games streak in 2006. But that didn't work out so well in Turin. Holland is quick to point out that he wrecked in his first race at the Olympics.
"I'm confident in my riding," Holland said. "I'm going to ride my heart out."
DOUBLE GOLD: Bobby Brown won the men's skiing slopestyle title, his second crown of the X Games competition.
Brown, who's from nearby Breckenridge, captured the Big Air title the night before.
"I had probably 20 people come to watch me," Brown said. "Today, it really helped because I had no energy after last night."