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KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia -- Alex Deibold has always been a grinder.
Four years ago, he went to the Olympics as a technician -- a man with a hand in waxing, scraping and, yes, grinding the snowboards into shape for America's top riders.
He's too busy for that sort of work now.
When he heads home from Sochi, Deibold will carry the Olympic bronze medal he won Tuesday in snowboardcross -- a sparkling reward for the behind-the-scenes grunt work he did all those years en route to the podium.
Pierre Vaultier of France held off hard-charging Nikolay Olyunin of Russia to win the gold.
Vaultier fended off several advances by Olyunin in the final, drawing clear over the final jumps to victory. Vaultier, 26, won all four of his races in the midst of a steady drizzle that created plenty of chaos -- the signature of snowboarding's answer to auto racing.
Deibold won bronze after narrowly edging teammate Trevor Jacob in the semifinals.
"It was grueling work but a situation I was grateful for," the 27-year-old from Manchester Center, Vt., said of working as a technician. "But it gave me motivation over the last four years. When I was standing on the podium, wrapping that flag around myself, all that sacrifice and work didn't seem like a damn thing."
Deibold's third-place finish was the highlight for the U.S. team on a wacky, rain-soaked day on the snowboardcross course -- one that began with veteran Nick Baumgartner and seven-time Winter X Games champion Nate Holland being eliminated in their opening heats.
|Alex Deibold was a board technician at the Vancouver Olympics four years ago. He earned a bronze medal Tuesday in men's snowboardcross.|
That left Deibold and Jacob as the only U.S. riders remaining in the field -- the only two with any chance of prolonging the string of American dominance in the men's side of this sport, where Seth Wescott had won the first two Olympic gold medals. And it came down to Deibold and Jacob, racing side-by-side in the first semifinal and vying for third place -- and the last spot in the medal race.
They leaped simultaneously over the second-to-last jump. Deibold was nudging Jacob with his leg while Jacob was pushing Deibold by his shoulder. They both stayed upright and even.
At the finish, they both slid for the line, the way a runner would go into second base. Deibold's board crossed a hair in front of Jacob's. As they waited for the result of the photo finish to pop up on the board, the two shared an embrace.
"A little bit of a heated day, but you don't hate the person," said Jacob, who was relegated to the consolation race and finished ninth. "Rubbin' is racin', and we were literally rubbin' out there. He's one of your best friends and you're racing with him. It's 'I don't want to hurt you.' But it's a race."
It's hard for anyone on the U.S. team to feel anything but great for Deibold, who has never quit his day jobs of painting, construction, bike tech, you name it.
"There's definitely been times when I've doubted where I'm at, at the end of the season when you're broke and trying to figure out how you're going to pay rent," he said. "But I've never done it for the money. I've always done it for the love."
After the finish, Holland, Baumgartner and Jacob interlocked their arms and lifted Deibold onto a makeshift victory chariot.
"It's cool because you have Seth Wescott, Nate and Nick and all these guys who are always kind of in front of him," U.S. snowboardcross coach Peter Foley said. "But he's always right there. He puts in as much or more work than anybody. And it's cool to see it pay off. Magic."
Rubbin' is racin. And we were literally rubbin' out there. He's one of your best friends and you're racing with him. It's, 'I don't want to hurt you.' But it's a race.” -- American snowboarder Trevor Jacob
The event was pushed back a day because of heavy fog, with officials modifying the format to cancel the seedings run and go straight to the elimination rounds.
Conditions weren't much better 24 hours later.
Tuesday's drizzle slowed the course and made for chunky, unpredictable snow. Several riders failed to finish after crashes.
Vaultier was able to steer clear and win France's third gold in Sochi.
After he won his first three races with relative ease, the final one was anything but a stroll down Rosa Khutor Extreme Park. Olyunin was dominant in zipping through to the final, his board apparently having the answer to a course that wasn't that far removed from being one big puddle.
Yet Olyunin didn't get off to the best start in the final, lagging behind on the first tabletop feature as Vaultier sprinted to the front. Three times it appeared Olyunin had a line to sneak by Vaultier through a turn. Three times Vaultier found a way to stay in front.
Olyunin's final bid came at the top of the final hill, but Vaultier pulled clear over the last two jumps to prevent Olyunin from pulling off one of the bigger upsets on the mountain since the Games began.
Italian rider Omar Visintin was taken off the course on a stretcher following a crash during the semifinals. Visintin lost control during an elevation drop and fell face first into the snow. He was still for several minutes but appeared to be communicating with medics as he was carried off.
Officials said Visintin bruised his buttocks. He appeared to be in fine spirits as he was wheeled into the medical center. Visintin flashed the "hang loose" sign; his right leg was in a brace as a precaution.
Cameron Bolton of Australia had lacerations on his face and needed a wrist to be taped after washing out in the semifinals. He gamely tried to race in the consolation final but pulled up during his run.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.