ZHANGJIAKOU, China (AP) — Nick Baumgartner paused in mid-sentence, emotions rising as he thought of an injured teammate who was unable to join the US snowboard cross team at the Beijing Olympics.
“Sorry, I’m kind of a crybaby all the time,” the 40-year-old American racer said on Saturday. “But it’s tough.”
It’s difficult not to see Alex Deibold in Team USA gear in China after sustaining a head injury in a crash during qualifying at a World Cup event just days before his scheduled arrival in Beijing. Deibold, the wax technician-turned-Olympic bronze medalist, wanted to contribute to his third-place finish at the Sochi 2014 games.
Instead, he watches his teammates, and this turn of events hits them hard.
“I just wrote with him and I’m grateful to be able to write with him because it was definitely a bit scary,” Hagen Kearney said of Deibold’s fall in Italy last weekend. “Head injuries are no joke. I think that’s the biggest advantage: he’ll be okay.
“But yeah, it would definitely have been nice to have him here.”
The 35-year-old Deibold has been a member of the US snowboard team since 2004.
His burial scared his teammates.
“We found out straight away that he was fine,” said Mick Dierdorff. “It’s so hard for him. He would like to be here.”
Deibold posted an upbeat video on Rooting social media before the opening ceremony on his teammates. With a scratch under his eye and a bandage on his neck, he said it was “regrettable” he wasn’t there, but added that “it doesn’t mean we’re not sending a super bad (expletives) team”.
Deibold was replaced by 23-year-old Jake Vedder, who is making his first Olympic appearance. It’s a bittersweet moment.
“I’m really trying to represent Alex and his whole family and do my best for him,” Vedder said. “Because this was 100% his place. He deserves to be here. I’m trying to enjoy my first Olympics, but really keep that in mind.”
This wild sport requires caution, even a week before the Olympics. Snowboard cross is an event where multiple riders simultaneously fly down the same course full of jumps, banked turns and other features. It’s rough and full of spills.
“If you play it safe and take it easy, you’re not going to be ready for the Games,” said Baumgartner, whose best result in three trips to the Olympics was fourth place at the 2018 PyeongChang Games. “He was just out there preparing to come here and do his best. He suffered a fall that scared us a lot. We are just grateful that he is doing well.”
At that very moment, Baumgartner began to cry.
“I’m stunned enough to see that he can’t try again,” Baumgartner said. “We will do it for us and our families, but we will definitely do it for Alex Deibold as well.”
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