While most Olympic athletes have their sights on gold at a young age, Alex Deibold didn't even know that the U.S. Snowboarding Team recruited snowboard cross athletes until they approached him right after graduating high school in 2004.
The sport, which consists of a group of snowboarders racing for time on a snowy mountain track riddled with obstacles, had been part of the Winter X Games since 1997, but it wasn’t designated an Olympic event until 2003, when it was announced that snowboard cross would debut at the 2006 Winter Games in Torino, Italy. As soon as the national team was awarded funds to develop rising stars, they signed Deibold on the spot.
“I remember getting fourth in boardercross at a U.S. Grand Prix event held at Mammoth in California. That's when they named me to the national team. All of the sudden, I had coaches and a season pass. I thought, 'Alright, so this is what I'm doing,’” admits the Manchester, VT, native, who trains in Park City, UT, and spends summers in Boulder, CO. While the 6’2”, 190-pound Sochi-hopeful initially preferred other disciplines within the freestyle family, specifically the halfpipe, he wasn't ready to pass up his opportunity to professionally train full-time.
“Boardercross was never a focus of mine growing up. I competed in it because my high school coaches at Stratton Mountain School wanted me to be a well-rounded freestyle athlete,” reveals Deibold, who's been playing in the snow since his mom gave him his first Burton board for Christmas at age 4.
Though he has been on the team for 10 years, he doesn't quite feel like one of the veterans yet. “I still look up to a lot of my teammates. Seth Westcott is 10 years older than me and he's won the last two Olympic gold medals,” he says. “You don't really hit your stride until your late 20s in this sport because you have to have so many races under your belt before you can really excel.” At age 27, Deibold feels that he's finally starting to hit his stride just in time for Sochi.
“I've missed the podium pretty narrowly the last few of years. But now all the pieces are coming together. I had my first World Cup podium last season in Russia at the Olympic preview event, which was awesome,” he says. “I just did the things that I knew how to do. It felt really good and rewarding, but it also made me hungrier. Now that I know that I can do this, I just want more.”
Crushing it in Sochi last season doesn't improve his odds of making the Olympic team, but it does bode well for him if he makes it.
This would be Deibold's first-ever Winter Games as a competitor; in 2010, he went to Vancouver as a backup and as a wax technician for the team. “It was pretty cool to see the Olympic experience without having the pressure to compete. If I do qualify for Sochi, I will have a pretty big advantage over people who've never been,” he says. Not to mention, the mental advantage of already winning silver at the Sochi World Cup. —Cristina Goyanes