‘Experience and confidence’: 2 Steamboat snowboarders could return to Olympics, while one eyes his debut
In 2018, Steamboat Springs snowboarder Mick Dierdorff made his Olympic debut and finished fifth in men’s snowboard cross, seconds shy of a medal. Ever since, he’s been near the top of the World Snowboard Cross standings. In 2019, Dierdorff won the snowboard cross individual and team world championships. Last year, he finished the season 12th in the World Cup standings.
Now, ahead of the 2022 Winter Olympics, he’s a favorite to make Team USA and travel to Beijing to improve on his previous result.
“I would consider myself a heavy favorite,” Dierdorff said. “Pretty much, I’m really focusing on doing everything I can do to continue to perform like I know I can. I think having been in this place a few times, going through the Olympic qualification process and successfully going through it and making the Olympic team once is a huge benefit, mentally.”
Dierdorff, 30, said the qualification process is daunting and mentally and physically challenging. There are numerous high-stakes events jammed into the early winter, which require a lot of travel and consistent performances.
“It’s a crazy roller coaster with a lot of ups and downs,” he said. “It can be super emotional. I think I am in a good place mentally about the whole process, so I’m feeling good heading into the qualifiers.”
Each snowboard cross race is a lot like a roller coaster, too. Four to six contestants all leave the start gate at the same time and speed down a massive course full of hills, bumps and berms that challenge the snowboarders’ skills and courage.
There are five designated snowboard cross qualifiers over the next couple of months, in which the nine national team members will battle for three snowboard cross spots.
Nov. 26-28: Secret Garden, China
Dec. 10-11: Montafon, Italy
Dec. 17-18: Cervina, Italy
Jan. 8-9, 2022: Krasnoyarsk, Russia, No. 1 and 2
Dierdorff said the key is to focus on the race in front of you, rather than the big picture.
On Dec. 22, the International Ski Federation, FIS, will update the snowboard cross points list. As long as they are in the top six, the two highest ranked American athletes, per gender, will be nominated to the Olympic team, according to the U.S. Ski and Snowboard athlete selection procedures. The third or any remaining unfilled spots will be filled by any athlete having a top three result in the designated tryout events. There are also tie breaking procedures in place.
The first tryout event will take place in China the weekend of Nov. 26. Then, the national team will travel to Italy for two races there before wrapping up the tryout events in Russia.
Dierdorff said he’s equipped with two crucial tools for getting through the grueling qualifying period.
“I feel like I’ve been doing it for so long now. I’ve been competing on the World Cup tour now since I was 17, so that’s 12, 13 years,” Dierdorff said. “A lot of it has to do with experience and confidence. … In my career of doing this, just about everything you could imagine has happened to me.”
Gold hopes new tricks can get him to the games
Taylor Gold is riding better than he ever has before, just in time for his second Olympics. Gold, who was born and raised in Steamboat, made his Olympic debut in 2014 in Sochi. He took 14th in men’s halfpipe, missing the finals. He missed a shot at the 2018 Olympics due to injuries and surgeries.
Ahead of the 2014 games, Gold was earning career-best finishes, winning World Cup and Grand Prix events. He’s been blazing a similar path over the past year and a half, making the finals in all his events last winter and taking third at the Laax Open in Switzerland. He’s on course to make the team and maybe even medal once in Beijing.
“I’m very confident,” Gold said. “I’m the top-ranked U.S. men’s pipe rider, and I think that I’ve put in a lot of work this summer to make myself more consistent.”
Gold, 28, has a few new tricks up his sleeve to help him perform well in the three tryout events ahead of the Olympics.
He’s been working on a trick that he invented, a double Michalchuk 1080, also known as the Chuck Taylor. Gold lands the trick in his “switch” position, or with his right foot forward. He’s hoping to combine the Chuck Taylor with a new “style” trick that has a slower rotation but is difficult because of the approach after the landing of the previous trick.
Gold’s first chance to show off his new skills will be the weekend of Dec. 10 at the Copper Grand Prix. The following weekend, he’ll compete at Copper Mountain again for the Dew Tour, then he’ll travel to California to compete at Mammoth Mountain. For the Colorado events, he’ll be able to stay at home in Breckenridge, which he thinks could set him up for success.
“My goal is to do my best and ride to the best of my ability,” Gold said. “I’m not too concerned with the results. I think I’ve put myself in the best position I can be in.”
Dec. 8-10: Copper Mountain World Cup
Dec. 16-18: Copper Mountain Dew Tour
Jan. 6-9, 2022: Mammoth Mountain
Two of three available slots on Team USA will be filled by any athletes ranked in the top 6 of the World Snowboarding points list as of Dec. 22. Right now, Gold is the top-ranked American male in ninth. The third or any remaining unfilled slots will be filled by an athlete with a top-three finish in a designated tryout event. If the team isn’t complete after using that criteria, there are discretionary selection procedures, as well as tie-breaking mechanisms.
If he’s comfortable with his standings after the early season events, Gold will compete at the X-Games on Jan. 21-23 at Buttermilk in Aspen. All three medalists in men’s halfpipe at the 2018 Winter Games have been invited, so if all athletes show up to X-Games, it’ll be an Olympic preview of sorts.
Gold or other athletes may not go though, since the Olympics are just days later.
“X-Games is hard to turn down,” Gold said.
Winters could make Olympic debut
Cody Winters could be the third Steamboat Springs snowboarder to make the Beijing Olympics, but his path might be a little tougher. Winters is an Alpine snowboarder, which means he competes in parallel slalom and giant slalom events. He races side by side with another athlete downhill, weaving in and out of gates, just like Alpine skiers.
Winters is particularly good at slalom, the faster of the two disciplines, but the Olympics only has parallel giant slalom.
Winters has been competing in the event since he was 10 and learned quickly he was good at it. He’s been competing at the World Cup level for the past couple of years and has been earning top-20 finishes. He’s on the outside looking in right now when it comes to Olympic qualifying, but he’s closing in on the necessary criteria to make the team.
“It’s going to be really difficult, I think for me, but definitely achievable,” he said.
Up to two athletes ranked in the top six of the FIS parallel points list will be nominated and athletes with a top-three finish in one of the five designated tryout events would fill any remaining slots. Tryout events start Dec. 11 in Russia and conclude Jan. 14, 2020, in Austria. Based on 2020-21 results, no American male may hit those standards, putting discretionary selection into effect, which is outlined in the athlete selection procedures document.
Dec. 11: Bannoye, Russia
Dec. 16: Carezza, Italy
Dec. 18: Cortina, Italy
Jan. 8, 2022: Scuol, Switzerland
Jan. 14, 2022: Simonhohe, Austria
Winters said a pair of top-16 finishes should do the trick, though. He’s also got some new boots, which have already helped him eliminate some issues he’s had on his toe turns.
He’s not sure what he’ll feel if he makes the Olympic team, but he knows what he’s feeling now while working to get there.
“Right now, I’m learning how much work it takes to be at the top of the top of the top,” Winters said. “I think that lesson I’ll take to my grave of seeing how you can push a sport to the absolute highest. I think the road to the Olympics is going to be more important than actually going to the games.”
To reach Shelby Reardon, call 970-871-4253, email sreardon@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @ByShelbyReardon.
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