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Originally published February 15, 2010 at 7:30 PM | Page modified February 15, 2010 at 9:09 PM

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Jerry Brewer

Seth Wescott's stirring comeback wins snowboard cross gold | Jerry Brewer

Seth Wescott of the U.S. needed a remarkable comeback to win his second straight gold medal in snowboard cross Monday and the right to wrap himself in his late grandfather's American flag.

Seattle Times staff columnist

WEST VANCOUVER, B.C. — In victory, in sweet and incomprehensible victory, Seth Wescott took the rad right out of his gnarly, nutty sport.

Wescott, the only gold medalist this two-Olympics-old snowboardcross event has known, wrapped himself in the United States military-service flag of his late grandfather, same as he'd done four years ago. He lifted it high. He let it fly behind him like a cape. He gripped it snug as a blanket.

Just when you thought snowboard cross was too cool for substance, the profound happened.

Even though Wescott had celebrated in this manner before, this time was different. This time, he got it. This time, he needed it. While packing for Vancouver last week, he placed the flag in his backpack, understanding its power.

Four years ago, his father, Jim Wescott, slipped past two police officers and leapt over a barricade so that the son could celebrate with the flag. This time, Seth wanted it with him.

"For him, now the flag is a piece of his equipment," the father said. "It's necessary. It grounds him."

On Monday, Seth Wescott raced as if he were competing for his entire family. In an enthralling comeback, he went from last to the gold, slipping past Canadian snowboarder Mike Robertson late in the race and hanging on in a tight finish that sent him falling upon crossing the line.

Halfway through the race, Wescott would've needed a cellphone to reach Robertson. He wasn't within shouting distance; he was about to incur roaming charges. Then, with patience and persistence, he passed three competitors in front of him, one by one, exhibiting his veteran savvy.

In snowboardcross, it's incredibly difficult to pass. Make a slight miscalculation, and you crash. The casual fan seems as much into the demolition derby aspect of the sport as the athleticism involved. Competitors compare snowboardcross — or SBX, for those who are truly down with it — to NASCAR on ice.

NASCAR on ice, skateboarding for the really trippy — whatever you want to call it — the sport has its appeal. Snowboardcross was a hot ticket here at Cypress Mountain, a sold-out event that became even more exclusive when Olympic officials axed the standing-room tickets and offered refunds to would-be spectators because they deemed the area unsafe because of rain.

It meant that about 4,000 fans couldn't watch the men's event Monday, and the same number will miss the women's event Tuesday. It's unfortunate because this crazy sport puts on an amazing show.

And you can go from stoked to choked up in record time, at least when you're following Wescott.

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Ben Wescott, Seth's grandfather, was an artillery trainer during World War II. He suffered a heart attack and died 21 years ago.

"We had an amazing relationship," said Seth, who lives in Portland, Maine. "Carrying his flag, it reminds me of what it means to stand on the Olympic podium. It was a pretty powerful moment packing that thing in my backpack."

But to wear the flag again, he had to win a medal. After a lackluster year that has included uneven performances, a broken arm and a pelvic injury, Seth came to Vancouver as an underdog. He was unfazed, however. This is a kid who was spit on when he first took up snowboarding. Some people at Sugarloaf Mountain Resort, his home venue, thought he was an embarrassing skater punk trying to bring his rebellion to the snow.

Now, he owns a bar and restaurant called The Rack close to Sugarloaf. Asked how patrons would react to his second gold medal, Seth said, "I think they're drinking heavily."

There might be some tears in those beers, though.

Jim Wescott remembers the morning after Seth won his first gold in Turin, Italy. He went to an interview with NBC's "Today," and the family draped Grandpa's flag over a fence separating the crowd from the television area. An Italian man, old enough to be Grandpa Ben's age, old enough to remember the American's role in Italy in 1945, picked up the flag.

"May I kiss it?" he asked.

He kissed it and walked away.

"It's a link," Jim said, crying, when asked of the flag's significance.

A link from past to present.

A link from grandfather to father to son.

A link from World War II veteran to two-time Olympic gold medalist.

Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or jbrewer@seattletimes.com, Twitter: @Jerry_Brewer

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Jerry Brewer offers a unique perspective on the world of sports.
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