WEST VANCOUVER – Drew Neilson hugged his wife Amy and young son Caleb as he left the Cypress Mountain stadium to go congratulate Canadian snowboard cross teammate Mike Robertson on his Olympic silver medal Monday.
He also embraced his sister Karen, brother Wade, and several other loved ones as the men’s snowboarder cross event closed.
Neilson had earlier sat with his parents – Judy and Ben Hoy of Vernon – and watched a semifinal race. It was a fabulous place for a family reunion, and despite an 11th-place finish, Neilson was hardly looking for a crisis counsellor.
“It’s not the end of the world,” said Neilson, who was bumped by a Polish rider and settled for 17th spot at the 2006 Turin Olympics. “I’ve got these guys (family) and I’ve had a great time doing this, and I’ve still got a bit more left in me.
“We’ll take this and move forward, that’s all you can do. Last time I got crashed out. This time, I crashed myself out.”
Neilson posted the 11th fastest qualifying time in the field of 35, advancing to the eights finals. Neilson passed Pierre Vaultier of France on the first bank, but the Frenchman returned the favour on the lower bank. Both men advanced to the quarterfinals.
Neilson, a former world champion who started snowboarding as a tyke at Silver Star, met Vaultier again in the quarters. The pair had an elbow-to-elbow battle going until Neilson crashed and burned midway down the course.
“Well I blew my start so I kind of got into the mix,” said Neilson, 35. “I got forced out on the first corner into a place I didn’t want to be and I had to come back to get into the gate. Luckily, the French guys made a mess out of it too and I got into the fight, and then I just hung my toe edge into the corner too much.”
His goggles were a little dark, but he wasn’t using equipment as an excuse for his spill.
Robertson, a Squamish native, slowed down for a millisecond and was forced to settle for a silver medal. American Seth Wescott, who also struck gold at the 2006 Turin Games, came from behind to pass Robertson in the thrilling final of four riders before 4,375 noisy fans.
Bronze-medalist Tony Ramoin of France and Nate Holland of the U.S. rounded out the top group in a field of 35 riders, in a Canadian-invented sport likened to a blend of NASCAR and roller derby.
“The (time) trials didn’t go so well,” said Wescott, who qualified 17th. “I knew I would be fighting from the bad gate. I was in fourth. Nate went down; I reeled in Tony, drove his inside. Mike braked, and I went in.”
Rob Fagan of Cranbrook finished fifth and Francois Boivin of Quebec placed 12th, making for a decent Canadian showing.
Fagan beamed for the cameras and saluted the crowd after winning the small (consolation) final.