U.S Olympic Bronze Medalist Alex Deibold: Just Riding a Piece of Plastic Sideways
Alex Deibold: Olympian Just Riding a Piece of Plastic Sideways
Before getting to have the bucket list week of his life meeting President Obama, David Ortiz and Paul Stanley less than two weeks ago, U.S. Olympic snowboarder and Sochi Winter Olympics Bronze Medalist Alex Deibold first had to swallow his pride as a wax technician for Team USA at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver when he didn’t qualify for the Games.
Fast forwarding four years later, Alex tells us how it was a really, really hard road to get to Sochi with a lot of sacrifices and struggles made along the way, but that he worked his whole life for that moment to put on one of the “ostentatious” Ralph Lauren sweaters during the Opening Ceremonies of the 2014 Winter Olympics Games.
For more on what life was like for Alex before medaling in Sochi including working in construction to pay for his training, and what life has been like since then meeting the likes of Bob McKnight, read more in our full Q&A with Alex who tells us how at the end of the day he is “just riding a piece of plastic sideways” that he is super fortunate to love doing and always will.
As interviewed by Natalie P. Mikolich -- @npmikolich
Were you surprised that you were the only American to advance to the snowboard cross final?
Initially, when I think about it, yes I am surprised there weren't more, but at the same time we were all stacked on one side of the draw which it make more difficult. I was shocked Nate Holland and Nick Baumgartner didn’t make it out of the first round.
Did you feel like there was a chip on your shoulder since you were the only American to advance and you weren’t officially on the “A” team at the time?
I certainly rode with a little chip on my shoulder, not because I wasn’t on the “A Team,” but because I had sat out of the limelight for so long and got to see my teammates participate in the media summit and other opportunities leading up to the Olympics and I didn’t. I got second at World Cup the year prior, but I didn’t get any recognition and it only motivated me to work harder.
What does it mean to you to become a part of that top-tier group after medaling?
It’s a relief. Financially, it will make my life easier next year, but at same time it is rewarding and all of the hard work has paid off. The snowboard team is a small group and close knit, so it doesn’t change much to go from the “B Team” to “A Team,” but now I have a little less to worry about and can be more focused.
Also of note: Between Vancouver 2010 and Sochi 2014, Alex Deibold was one of the U.S. Olympic athletes to receive financial support from the Level Field Fund (http:// www.levelfieldfund.org/). Founded by Olympic Gold Medalist Ross Powers, the Level Field Fund now includes Michael Phelps, Seth Wescott, and Lenny Krayzelburg and is designed to provide grant support for uniquely talented athletes in need of financial assistance such as Alex Deibold.
What did you learn from your trip to the 2010 Vancouver Games as a wax technician that helped you prepare for Sochi?
I think the biggest thing I learned from being in Vancouver is that the Olympics, while elevated throughout the world with all its attention, it is just another snowboard race. You have to approach the Olympics like everything else, and if you don’t stay focused you will get distracted.
One of my teammates made a comment about the Olympics “being the easiest competition” because everything is taken care of for you like all the food and transportation. I also saw how the Olympics will lift you up. It is a sensory overload with everything going on and it is easy to get caught up in. Having seen that in Vancouver, and being there before, allowed me to stay focused in the manner I needed to this time in Sochi.
Can you tell us more about what it was like being a wax technician for the Vancouver Games and how that impacted you?
The year prior to Vancouver, I didn’t have great results, or a good start at the World Cup circuit for all the qualifying events. After I knew I wasn’t going to get a start for remaining qualifying events, the coach approached me and asked me if I wanted to work as wax tech for the team. I said absolutely because I got to be around the team, train and travel with them at three of five qualifying events. In 2006, they had their first Olympic wax tech for boarder cross in Torino who was one of the U.S. athletes that volunteered to be a wax tech just so he could be there and watch. After one of the U.S. athletes blew his knee out, he ended-up racing so I got offered to do the same thing in Vancouver in case of a similar scenario. I definitely had to swallow my pride in Vancouver while I sat there and watched my teammates participate in something I wanted to be in. It was a hard pill to swallow, but at the same time, I had no hesitation doing it.
Can you tell us what the Sochi Opening Ceremonies were like and what you thought of the Ralph Lauren sweaters?
I worked my whole life to put that Ralph Lauren sweater on! When we walked in the Opening Ceremony as a group, it was rad and the sweaters were over the top and ostentatious. It is one of the biggest moments of your life so why wear something boring and so uninspiring like some of the other countries did?
What got you into snowboarding at age four?
I started skiing when I was two; snowboarding was just starting to take off. I first saw it at Bromley Mountain where I started skiing and said to my mom, “I really wanted to try that.” When I first started, they didn’t even make boots that small. I had to wear Sorel Boots -- classic winter snow boots with fur on them.
Who is your greatest inspiration in your career?
Over the last year, my results have really taken off and I think the biggest change and factor in success is that snowboarding is fun. Last season, I rode with 12- and 13-year-olds and we would just go out and shred all day. They were my inspiration, remembering how fortunate I am to do something that I love.
What were some of the jobs you worked during the summer to pay for your snowboarding career?
Most recently, and still right now, I work at Sports Garage Cycling in Boulder, Co. I like bikes and it helps me stay connected to the industry. I was also a painter and project construction manager where I made good money but was working way too much and it was hard to find a balance for working and training.
Describe what life has been like since your bronze medal run at Sochi
The first couple weeks were real busy with a lot of media in Colorado and back east in Vermont. Then there was a bit of a lull, but the last two weeks have been some of the craziest of my life. I spent a week in L.A. networking where I got to meet Bob McKnight (Co-founder of Quicksilver), have breakfast with Pete Townend (the first ever surfing world champion) and did three school visits.
After that, I went to the White House and met the President and then two days later I got to throw out the first pitch at a Red Sox game and even take a selfie with David Ortiz. Two days after that, I went to NYC, and through a random occurrence I met Paul Stanley (of Kiss) on the floor of New York Stock Exchange.
What, if anything, will you do differently to prepare for the 2018 Pyeongchang Games now that you’re on the radar?
I don’t think I will. It took a long time to figure out a formula for success, and I think a hard work ethic and enjoying the process has helped me succeed. I am certainly looking forward to it; it is a long way off but on the distant radar.
Tell us about your hotel experience in Sochi
My experience in Russia was incredible. I didn’t have issues with running water or getting locked in the bathroom. The U.S. Snowboard Team stayed in a private hotel until we competed and it was a nice European style hotel with cooks. After I competed, I moved to the dorms in Athlete Village and I had a great time meeting athletes and seeing the venues, which were beautiful. The coolest event I watched was Sage Kotsenburg win the first medal of the new discipline (snowboarding slopestyle) for the U.S. So, to be there on the very first day and watch my teammates win a Gold medal, was inspiring and motivating for me to stay focused and work hard while I was there.
What was the craziest thing you saw in Sochi?
The craziest thing, but in a good way, was the very first day we were there when we went to the top of the mountain and I got to ride slopes with my teammates. It was closed to the public and we just rode pow -- it was mind blowing. In Sochi, I certainly saw my fair share of military personnel and stray dogs, but they had just the same security in Vancouver with snipers in the woods and heavily-armed personnel in the streets. It is a good thing to keep the coupes away.
Anything else you want to mention about Sochi and what’s next for you?
The biggest thing for me is if I wasn’t a competitive Olympic snowboarder, I would still be a snowboarder unlike some Olympians who retire and don’t keep doing their sport; I am super fortunate to have that. It was a really, really hard road to get to Sochi with a lot of sacrifices and struggles, but at the end of the day I’m just riding a piece of plastic sideways.