Tom Kelly: Behind the Gold: Child of the Tour
It was a dark Saturday night in Moscow when the full moon began lighting up the venue. Thousands of fans had their eyes focused on the top of the towering scaffold.
American Justin Reiter slid into the red course starting gate – still a bit bewildered that his rival Benjamin Karl of Austria had selected blue. Ahead of him lay a 14-second parallel slalom snowboard course with soft snow over a hard base – like riding on ball bearings. He took a deep breath, telling himself over and over that he was ready to win.
It’s been quite a ride for the 34-year-old riding out of Steamboat Springs in the sport of Alpine snowboarding. In a sport that has limited support, Reiter has forged his career on his own, with the support of his SG Pro Team and Red Bull.
A veteran of the World Cup tour since 2004, he just missed a spot on the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Team. Following the Winter Games, the USSA made a decision to no longer support a national team. Without a plan, Reiter left the sport for two seasons before returning, winning a silver medal at the 2013 World Championships.
“It’s been an unorthodox road – I’ve had to think out of the box,” said Reiter from his training base this week in Ramsau, Austria. “I’ve had to adapt more than most other athletes. It’s not something you want, but if you’re passionate about what you do, you have to make a way. That’s what the last four years has consisted of — making my way. A lot of other athletes would have given up because it hasn’t been a paved road. It’s been wrought with different challenges. I’ve elected to look at those challenges as opportunities.”
Reiter is a glass half full kind of guy. Ask him about support, and he’s quick to acknowledge what he does have.
“The most important pillar for me is community,” he said. “I have the whole town of Steamboat and the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club — they’re always there for me. You can have all the support you want. But in the start gate, you have only one person, yourself. I have my own experience, my own feeling, my own self confidence to draw on.”
Reiter came to Moscow without his coach. When he and American Michael Trapp’s arrival was delayed, they had to call ahead and request a coach from another nation to represent them at the team captain’s meeting. But he’s learned how to manage. And his passion is boundless.
“I do miss my teammates,” he conceded. “But I’ve really found what I’m made of. And I’ve also learned how cool it is to be traveling in Europe.”
As he looked down the short course in Moscow, his mind was filled with confidence. Doubt surfaced briefly, but he set it aside. This was his moment.
Parallel slalom courses are usually around 45 seconds to a minute. This one was 14 seconds. There was zero margin for error. Conditions were tricky. Reiter, though, saw it as an opportunity.
“A lot of the riders tend to get frustrated. For me, on the mental side, that’s an chance to capitalize,” Reiter said. “It’s the American spirit — being able to identify changing conditions and, more importantly, be willing to adapt to them. I look at it as an opportunity — someone is going to win. I want it to be me!”
The start clock began beeping. Gates opened. The race was on.
Karl got a strong pull out of the start. Reiter could sense how badly the Austrian wanted the win, taking off into the lead on the start pitch. The American held back — it wasn’t his spot to charge, more to position himself with enough speed off the jump and into the flats.
Coming into the final gates, he juiced his board onto the flats. Karl maintained his advantage. Reiter was nervous, but he knew exactly what he wanted to do on the bottom. He nailed the line, felt his board accelerate. Then, all of a sudden, Karl made a mistake. Reiter was there for the kill.
The next 60 seconds went in slow motion for the American. He just wasn’t sure he had really won. He looked at the scoreboard and finally saw the words: “Justin Reiter: Winner.”
His friend and SG Snowboards teammate Roland ‘Fisch’ Fischnaller, who had just taken third, grabbed Reiter and hoisted him on his shoulders for the celebratory parade to the podium.
Justin Reiter had just won the first World Cup by an American in over 11 years.
“When I podium, everyone gets to celebrate,” he laughed. “When I win, everyone else knew how important it was. I’m a child of the entire tour.”
Tom Kelly is vice president of communications for the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association.
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