The men's snowboard cross competition will take place on Feb. 17 at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, and the field already has several competitors to look out for. To put it simply, the field is stacked with several athletes that have a great shot at winning gold.
Snowboard cross is a competition in which a group of six athletes race down an inclined course that is narrow and complete with several snow-built features such as cambered turns, gap jumps, drops and more. It's all about speed and finesse.
The event has only been in the Winter Olympics since 2006, and the relatively young event will surely be exciting in Sochi. The field is simply too strong for spectators not to get a thrill from watching the action.
Here are a few names to watch closely, as they are in the hunt for gold.
Markus Schairer, Austria
Markus Schairer of Austria doesn't have the longevity that other athletes competing in snowboard cross have, but he's got the talent and technical ability to medal in this competition.
He does have a few medals to his name, though none of them have come on the Olympic stage. His most impressive medals are the silver he took home in the 2008 Aspen Winter X-Games and the gold he won at the 2009 FIS Snowboarding World Championships in Gangwon, South Korea.
His 23rd-place finish in Vancouver in 2010 was a disappointment, but it came on the heels of a terrible crash a few weeks earlier that saw him fracture five ribs. The fact that he still competed in the event is a testament to his persistence, so you can be sure that he'll be a fierce competitor as a healthy athlete in 2014.
Schairer has the motivation to be a force in this year's event. Expect that poor finish in 2010 to be in his mind the entire time he races.
Nate Holland, USA
Nate Holland has failed to reach the Olympic podium in the past two installments of the Winter Games, but he's motivated beyond belief in Sochi. He told Jason Stahl of NBCOlympics.com that he's definitely ready to compete:
There’s not a lot I’m doing differently to prepare myself. At both Olympics I was riding really well. I’ve definitely progressed. My riding’s progressed. My fitness has progressed. My experience has progressed, so I feel a little bit more prepared. It’s just the longevity of myself being in the game of snowboarding.
Holland's goals aren't just to win a medal, though. He wants nothing more than to win gold, and it will be a disappointment if he wins anything less.
"I have no interest in a silver medal; I want that top spot," he told Kevin Oklobzija of USA Today Sports (via The Detroit Free Press).
That type of determination will be hard to compete with. Holland has won medals in nearly every level of competition except the Olympics. That should change in Sochi if he can perform as well as he hopes.
Nick Baumgartner, USA
Nick Baumgartner earned a spot in men's snowboard cross over fellow American Seth Wescott, the two-time defending gold medalist in the event. Needless to say, there will be a ton of pressure on Baumgartner as a result.
He was the only American with three top-10 finishes in World Cup competitions this past year, and that type of momentum should play to his advantage. Wescott understands that momentum. He told Rachel Axon of USA Today that he thinks USA coaches made the right choice in Baumgartner:
I think Nick had definitely earned it through the World Cup. He had some bad luck in Andorra. He got run into. He has probably been our most consistent rider throughout the entire season and hasn't had the cards fall his way necessarily.
Baumgartner has had success during his career in the snowboard cross event. He won the gold medal in the 2011 Winter X-Games and a silver medal in the event in 2012. He crashed during the quarterfinals in 2013, though that didn't stop the coaches from naming him to the Olympic roster anyway.
He's a big threat to win gold as a result of his previous success in the event at the X-Games.
Follow me on Twitter: @kennydejohn.
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