Snowboard cross is one of the crazier events of the Winter Olympics. It’s kind of a free-for-all, with crashes that can take out multiple riders in a six-person heat. Competitors love the chaos.
On Thursday in PyeongChang, none of the three medalists was an American rider – Nick Baumgartner was fourth and Mick Dierdorff fifth in the final – but the the four members of the U.S. contingent had a blast nonetheless.
The Washington Post’s Adam Kilgore profiled the four men, who all come from blue-collar backgrounds and have built a brotherhood among them, training together for a week at a time on courses they’d maintain themselves.
They’re uniquely skilled to build gates and maintain the courses they’d ride: Baumgartner is a concrete pourer by trade; Dierdorff is a carpenter. Jonathan Cheever is a plumber and Hagen Kearney is a landscaper and guitar player in a metal band.
They met up in places like Park City, Utah and Argentina, taking time away from work to practice together.
“We all have such love for each other,” Kearney said. “I think a lot of people didn’t expect to see us four making it to the Olympics. I don’t know. We have this special, unique thing that’s hard to describe. We’re just a bunch of idiots having fun.”
Baumgartner, who is 36-years-old and in his third Olympics, was the oldest rider in the competition. Just a few months ago, racing in a World Cup event in Austria, he collided with another racer just before a jump and landed on his back on an uphill slope. He suffered a compression fracture to two vertebrae, broke a rib and bruised both of his lungs.
A few weeks later, he was racing again, in Turkey, and qualified for the Olympics.
Baumgartner fell early in his semifinal race, but it didn’t spell disaster: he recovered and kept racing, and when others crashed further down the course, Baumgartner was able to avoid the pile-up, finishing second and moving to the final.
In the same semifinal, Dierdorff was bumped by another rider and went flying, landing on his back. But he gathered himself and remembered snowboard cross’ abiding rule: the race is never over. Despite being in pain, he finished and also made the final.
Cheever did not advance out of his first-round heat, missing out by .004 of a second; Kearney went out in the quarterfinals.
Baumgartner, who coaches his 13-year-old son’s soccer team, will be 40 by the time the next Winter Olympics come around, but he’s not ready to leave his crazy sport, not without a medal.
“I’ll be here in four years, absolutely,” Baumgartner said. “If I gotta go until I’m 100 to get a medal, I’m going to keep doing it.”