I was relaxing at the USA House before dinner, when I heard a commotion. A table filled with curling athletes and coaches were teasing another American athlete for showing off his medal. I looked across the room and saw the unmistakable shine of a gold medal, but I could not place the face of its owner. He was tall, wearing a hat and sporting a small chin beard, without the distinctive headband of Apollo Ohno. I am embarrassed to admit that I had to ask a nearby USOC staffer for his name.
“Why, that’s Seth Wescott,” came the reply. Seth became America’s first Olympic champion at the 2010 Games, when he won the snowboard-cross gold on February 15. Later that day, Shaun White overshadowed Seth, with a gold medal of his own in the half-pipe.
When I approached Seth for a conversation (and an autograph on my flag), he was charming, willing and candid. He told me of his surprise that his predicted challengers had failed to qualify into his final, and how he expected to be trailing off the start, but he had confidence in his ability to pass the field on the two straight-aways. His speed was too much for the early bumps, and would force him to land poorly at the beginning, but, “I decided to keep to my strengths, instead of accommodating the course.” History proved him right.
Four hours later, as I left the USA House, I dropped by the gift shop, and found a sale on “bobble head” dolls, featuring both a generic guy and gal in the USA Vancouver uniforms. A good natured Seth Wescott was standing alone in the back of the shop, using his “Sharpie” pen to color in the chin of the bobble head, before signing the base of statuette.
Not every gold medalist is surrounded by a “posse” or becomes a household name. Some of them even seem to like it that way.