Maine’s Gold

Posted Feb. 16, 2010, at 5:40 p.m.

OK, so maybe we are indulging in parochialism here, but Maine is bursting with pride over Seth Wescott’s gold medal win Monday in the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, and we’re not shy about trumpeting it. Mr. Wescott’s thrilling come-from-behind victory in the snowboard cross competition, a win that seemed somewhere between improbable and impossible halfway through the race, is cause for celebrating a fellow Mainer’s success.

The gold medal means he now has a matched set — Mr. Wescott took the gold in the same competition in the 2006 Olympics in Turin, Italy. The snowboard cross event was added to the Olympics in 2006, an overdue nod to the youth-oriented sports featured in the popular X-Games, where Mr. Wescott had won seven medals.

At 33, he is a sort of elder statesman of the sport, and probably will be regarded by the next generation of snowboarders the way Lance Armstrong is regarded among young American competitive cyclists.

Mr. Wescott was born in South Carolina, but later moved to Maine, where his father was a track and cross-country coach at Colby College. He attended the elite Carrabassett Valley Academy, which trains skiers and snowboarders, and lived in Farmington. Mr. Wescott began competing on the slopes in 1991 when he was just 15. Today, he owns and operates The Rack, a bar and restaurant at Sugarloaf, his home mountain.

“I feel both very youthful and very old for my years,” he writes on his Web site. Snowboarding has “led me around the world to live out my dreams. A nomad, a traveller, a Mainer, a photographer, an athlete, a writer, a world observer, and a world participant,” is how he describes himself.

A remarkably bright-eyed (given the hour) Mr. Wescott appeared on NBC’s “Today” show Tuesday morning. Host Matt Lauer played a recording of the race, asking Mr. Wescott to describe his feelings and thoughts as it unfolded. Surprisingly, he never felt he was out of the running to win.

Mr. Wescott recounted how he brought an American flag that had belonged to his paternal grandfather during World War II to the mountain that day. His grandfather trained men to serve during that war. On winning the gold, Mr. Wescott wrapped the flag around himself as a tribute to his family.

At the close of the interview, a misty-eyed Mr. Lauer grabbed Mr. Wescott in an embrace, something the TV host said he didn’t make a habit of doing, but felt moved because of his high regard for the young man.

Gov. John Baldacci noted that “Maine is proud of Seth” not only for his gold-medal performance, but because “he’s active in his community and sets a high standard for the way he conducts his life.”

Despite the fame, Mr. Wescott has not strayed far from the love of the sport. On his Web site, he writes: “My love of snowboarding is for the mountains, the snow and those moments when I get to be alone with gravity… Tapping into the soul and the essence… this is me.”

And we are proud that he is one of us.

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