SOCHI, Russia — The script reads like one of those made-for-television movies that you’ve seen in various incarnations a dozen times. Guy doesn’t make the team, works behind the scenes, sacrifices to keep his dream alive, gets his big shot years later, and is rewarded for his hard work. You know, the happy ending.
Too good to be true? Well, not always.
Alex Deibold, a 27-year-old from Manchester, Vt., who toiled as a wax technician for the 2010 US snowboard team after failing to make the squad in Vancouver, earned a bronze medal in snowboardcross Tuesday in rain-soaked conditions at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park.
“It’s beyond words,’’ said Deibold of the payoff for his grunt work, taking care of his friends’ equipment. “The hard work I put in, the sacrifices I made over the last four years, to win a medal is just the icing on the cake. It’s been an incredible experience and I’m just happy to be here.’’
Deibold and teammate Trevor Jacob were the last two Americans standing in the event, which had been owned by the US (gold for Seth Wescott in 2006 and ’10). Their two more experienced teammates, veteran Nick Baumgartner and seven-time Winter X Games champion Nate Holland, were each eliminated in their opening heats.
The gold was won by Pierre Vaultier of France, who held off hard-charging Nikolay Olyunin of Russia. In the race for a spot in the final and a guaranteed medal, Deibold and Jacob battled side-by-side down the steep, technical course. As they both slid across the finish line on their backs, Deibold’s board crossed a split second in front of Jacob's.
The event was pushed back from Monday by intense fog, and the sloppy conditions weren’t much improved Tuesday. And even though Deibold trains in Park City, Utah, the weather and the course were perfect for a guy from Vermont.
“I grew up in New England, and you kind of have to be ready for anything,’’ he said. “I will say my time in Colorado for the last seven or eight years has made me go a little bit soft.’’
Deibold was more than ready for the challenge. Getting here was more than half the battle. He said the strength of the US men in snowboard, in which four riders are selected, worked against his making the team four years ago.
“It wasn’t like I was a nobody,’’ he said with a smile. “Our Olympic selection process is probably one of the most grueling. In 2010, the US had six men finish on the podium in five events, which no other nation had anything close to.
“I would have gone for every other nation in the world except for the US and Canada. To make it on the US Olympic snowboard team is a lot harder than even competing here.’’
So even though he wouldn’t be competing, Deibold was ready to do whatever he could for the team in Vancouver. And it gave him a sense of wanting the Olympic dream even more.
“The time that I had in Vancouver, working for my teammates, it was grueling work,’’ Deibold said. “I slept seven hours in a three-day period when we were — they were — competing. It was tough. I wasn’t jealous but I was kind of like, ‘I want this.’ ”
The sacrifice on his body and the financial toll of funding a career haven’t been easy.
“In the past four years, I’ve had quite a few injuries, I’ve had multiple surgeries, and it’s been hard coming back from injuries and dealing with financial sacrifice,’’ said Deibold, who has worked at times as a project manager for a construction company and in a bike shop in Boulder, Colo. “I used that time in Vancouver as motivation to work hard and put in the extra hours and put it all out there.
“I haven’t had a lot of sponsors throughout my career and I’ve had to make choices in my life, as far as where I’m going to put the money that I earn. A lot of people put money towards a lot of things that I can’t do. Payments towards a car, going on vacation.
“I’ve had to sacrifice a lot of that stuff to fund my career. I’m happy to make those sacrifices. I’m incredibly fortunate to have traveled the world in snowboarding.
‘‘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.
“But I've never done it for the money. I've always done it for the love.’’
Deibold dedicated his medal to former teammate Chelone Miller, the younger brother of Bode Miller who died last year of a seizure.
“I know he’s up there looking down on us,’’ Deibold said. “He was the embodiment of snowboarding, and he always had a smile on his face. I just want to take this chance to dedicate this to him and his family.’’Scott Thurston can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Globethurston