SOCHI, Russia--He was not quite the domestique of the U.S. snowboard cross team four years ago in Vancouver, but close enough, as one of the wax technicians.
Alex Deibold's journey from support man to Olympic bronze medalist has been a study in perseverance in the face of injury and adversity.
The men's snowboard cross event was delayed by a day because of thick fog, and the rain-soaked course featured crashes and photo finishes, including one between Deibold and U.S. teammate Trevor Jacob for a spot in the final.
Pierre Vaultier of France won the gold and Nikolay Olyunin of Russia delighted the home crowd by taking the silver.
"I'm not sure what winning an Olympic medal will do for me just now," said Vermont's Deibold, who had a flag draped over his shoulders in the mixed zone. "I'm going to embrace this moment and enjoy it for what it is. I never got into snowboarding for money. I've never had big sponsors. I've always worked to get where I am. That's never changed.
"There's definitely been times where I've doubted where I'm at, at the end of the season, when you're broke and trying to figure out how you're going to pay rent.... But I've never done it for the money. I've always done it for the love."
The two most experienced Americans in the event, Nick Baumgartner and three-time Olympian Nate Holland, were eliminated in the first round.
Holland said the Olympics had brought him joy but also caused "a lot of heartbreak." He hit trouble going too big out of Turn 5, caught teammate Jacob's draft and slid out.
The two less-experienced team members--Jacob and Deibold--combined for a wild, sliding photo finish in the semifinals.
Deibold ended up landing the bronze, and Jacob ended up with a suspected broken ankle.
"We were doing some weird things in the air," Jacob said, "We drag-raced to the finish. It was cool."
Not so cool was the state of his ankle. Jacob, who was raised in Malibu but now lives in Paso Robles, said he felt his ankle pop on the first jump in the semifinals. He said he thought there was ligament damage in addition to the self-diagnosed break.
Despite the discomfort, Jacob managed to get off a good line about his level of pain.
"Let's say it was at about a 1, it's now about a 5 and in 15 minutes it will probably be about a 10," he said.
Meanwhile, the 20-year-old Jacob indicated that snowboard cross could play a big role in his future. "This is the coolest experience of my life," said Jacob, a former halfpipe and slopestyle competitor who took up snowboard cross less than two years ago.
Still you can guess that his mentor, extreme sports star Travis Pastrana, will be a factor. After all, there are presumably new mountains to conquer in the world of extreme sports. Pastrana weighed in on Monday night with some encouragement for Jacob.
"He texted me last night," Jacob said. "He said, 'Hey, go get a medal out there. And remember, like my mom always said, 'Nobody likes a loser.'
"He said, 'If you crash and you're out of contention, you better do a big trick for me at the bottom.'
"Sorry, Travis, my ankle's broken."
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