Vaultier repeats as Olympic champion in men’s snowboardcross
PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (AP) — Pierre Vaultier has been doing this long enough to know how it goes.
You make a living strapping a snowboard to your feet and careening down a mountain within arm’s reach of other riders, and things happen. And if you get dumped, if someone cuts you off or wipes out in front of you or if you zig when you really meant to zag and you go down, well, you’re cooked.
Yet there the defending Olympic men’s snowboardcross champion was during the semifinals at Phoenix Snow Park on Thursday, laying in the snow after Australia’s Jarryd Hughes took the wrong line and sent Vaultier down.
The Frenchman figured his hopes of capturing another gold medal to go with one he earned in Sochi four years ago were long gone.
“Crashing into a run and qualifying for the next one is something quite unusual,” Vaultier said.
Good thing Vaultier is far from a usual rider. He scrambled back on his board, strapped his boots back in his bindings and took off. It didn’t matter that he finished 16 seconds behind the two leaders. He came in third to earn a spot in the final. That’s all he needed.
Vaultier didn’t let his lucky break go to waste, sprinting to the front early to capture France’s second gold medal at the extreme park this week. Perrine Laffont won the women’s moguls on Sunday.
“The final was much more frank, which is good,” Vaultier said. “It made things right.”
Hughes took silver, with Regino Hernandez earning a rare Winter Games medal for Spain by finishing third. U.S. teammates Nick Baumgartner and Mick Dierdorff advanced to the final but both washed out on a jump and finished well back of the leaders.
Snowboardcross is part race, part matter of survival as competitors slide inches apart down a series of bumps, jumps and dips. Riders are seeded based on time in qualifying but after that, anything goes. All that matters is finishing in the top half of your race to advance through the elimination rounds.
Vaultier posted the best time in qualifying and easily moved into the semifinals but ran into serious trouble midway through when Hughes swerved in front of him. Still, he found a way through
“That was a lucky escape in a way and I knew from that point on that everything would come together and everything would turn out well,” Vaultier said.
It hardly mattered in the final. Vaultier broke clear of the rest of the six-man field and smoothly navigated his way through the obstacles, keeping his altitude under control on the jumps that sent some riders sprawling. He pumped his fists and roared as he crossed the line.
Hughes edged Hernandez for silver, though it hardly bothered him. His bronze was just the third in the Winter Games by a Spaniard, and first since Bianca Fernandez Ochoa took bronze in women’s slalom in 1992
“It’s a huge win for Spain and especially for snowboarding,” Hernandez said. “It’ll be a huge impetus for this sport in our country.”
For more AP Olympic coverage: https://www.wintergames.ap.org