Lessons from a Champion

Saturday, Aug. 24, 2013

Periodically the USSA's elite athletes training at the Center of Excellence schedule time to speak with their support staffs, to tell them their story and to share with them their programs and goals for the coming year.  These "athlete socials" are always a great way to connect the athletes with their support staffs and vice-versa.  And they're a great way to remind the staff, many of whom never go into the field with the teams, what their work is all about.

Olympic Champion Seth Wescott was the latest athlete to share his story.  Most know that Seth is the two-time Olympic gold medalist in snowboardcross – in fact he's the only male to have ever won the event at the Olympic level.  But fewer know that Seth was previously both a ski racer and a halfpipe rider.  He has a long history with the sport, dating back over 20 years.

Seth is a first-class story-teller, one with the ability to deliver inspiration and insightful messages gleaned through his personal experiences.

He was introduced to the power of the Olympics by his parents.  He grew up in a house without a TV, until the day before the '84 Olympics in LA.  His parents brought home a TV so they could watch those Olympics with their kids.  Seth's childhood babysitter – Joan Benoit – would race, and of course win, the Olympic marathon.  The TV went into the attic after the closing ceremony.  But listening to Seth, it's beyond doubt that parents play a vital role in helping children discover and live healthy lifestyles.  And the athletes that become heroes for kids through their own accomplishments are massive motivators, and are essential to kids getting into sport.

Seth spoke of perseverance - coupled with patience, hard work and focus – when overcoming adversity such as injury and defeat.  He spoke about getting to the Olympic finals - seeing his family, friends and many supporters, and realizing that the Olympics was not just about him.  It was about the journey to get to that point, and the importance of that journey to all of the people who had been around him, supported him, and watched him.  It was about his community, and about his country - about the inspiration that his journey provided.  He spoke about how the pursuit of excellence and the urgency of winning drove not only the best out of him, but also drove the absolute best out of those working closely with him.  And he spoke about how that pursuit of excellence by his coaches and supporters has positively impacted the many other athletes who've been with him in his team.

Importantly, Seth's journey also highlighted the history and evolution of the sport of snowboarding - from racing gates to the rapid development of pipes and parks, to the development of competition formats and the progression of tricks, and from bootstrapping his way around the pro tour to the well-oiled machine that supports his performance today.  Since its invention, snowboarding has had a unique culture among sport.  Snowboarding has always been about more than winning and losing.  It's been about creativity, community, and progression.  And that's created a highly innovative and dynamic sport that's been appealing to spectators, and attractive to youth.

The Olympics has embraced this, and it's been rewarded.  The IOC took bold moves several years ago to add new events in snowboarding – and its counterpart freeskiing.  The Olympic program in Sochi will be the most interesting and youth-oriented competition set to date.  But innovation isn't a one-and-done effort.  Even since the 2014 Olympic program was set, snowboarding has continued to innovate, not only through athletic progression in existing events, but also with new formats and disciplines.  Big Air has provided a showcase for trick progression, its innovated competition formats, and has brought the sport to urban settings.  And Team SBX has brought an exciting "nations" format to the sport, providing an unifying rallying point for teams and nations.  The challenge for the IOC is to continue to support and facilitate this kind of innovation and progression, and to do it by embracing the culture of the sport.

As it did several years ago, the USSA is actively working again with FIS to ensure that the most relevant, dynamic and progressive elements of snowboarding are showcased at the Olympic Games.  Through that work, the athletes, the USSA, FIS and the Olympics themselves will benefit, and the progressive culture of snowboarding will be recognized and enhanced.

Luke Bodensteiner, EVP Athletics

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