Alex Deibold is a cheese pizza kind of guy.
He claims that there’s no need for the other toppings getting in the way when the pie – like the one they make at his relatives pizzeria, Pepe’s Pizza – is that good. Deibold himself is unassuming, calm and focused on the details. And while the Boulder resident also may seem simple to some there happens to be a lot more to the bronze medalist from the Sochi Winter Olympics.
Growing up in Vermont, Deibold had always dreamed of participating in the Olympic Games – even as his sport had yet to be instituted.
Although the International Olympic Committee only first introduced snowboarding in 1998 – events only included half pipe and parallel slalom, snowboardcross had to wait eight more years to be admitted to competition – the young snowboarder was driven to make it to this stage. He witnessed his idol Ross Powers win the gold medal in Salt Lake City in 2002 and that solidified the drive to represent his country and compete in the Olympics.
Those goals nearly became a reality in at the last Winter Games in Vancouver, Canada but Deibold was unable to qualify for the team. He finished on the outside looking in.
It didn’t stop him from going though. Instead he found his way to the Olympics as a wax technician for the team – preparing equipment and doing other tasks. He watched the spectacle and ceremony firsthand and took that with him.
“Working for those guys and seeing them get to participate in the Olympics in 2010 was definitely a huge motivating factor for me in the four years in between,” Deibold said. Not only did he avoid letting the disappointment consume him, the snowboarder used it to widen his depth of knowledge. “I had an idea of what to expect and how to prepare mentally. I think it gave me an advantage over people that had never been there before.”
Deibold was poised to finally get the chance to compete in the grandest of stages as he worked – making ends meet at several jobs because he was without any sort of sponsorship and also in training. On the same course at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park in 2013, he raced to his first ever medal in a World Cup event, but soon after he separated his shoulder on a crash which required surgery.
“It’s a lot of sacrifice and hard work you have to put in to come back from major injury and using that motivation helped me get to where I am today,” he said.
His journey would continue on to the Olympics – as he did qualify for the team in 2014 – and despite not being a favorite to medal or even advance he would do just that.
Pressure wasn’t something Deibold focused on – because the circumstances of his Olympic finale just wouldn’t allow it.
The finals of snowboardcross were anything but ideal. In fact, they weren’t even on the schedule day because they had to be pushed back due to fog. His family and girlfriend were forced to scramble and try to change flights just to be able to stay in the country to watch his attempt at an Olympic medal. Once the weather did allow for the race to continue, it was snowing at the top of the hill and raining at bottom. This was a minor adjustment for the racers, but nonetheless one they had to encounter.
Deibold finally found himself in the starting gate. He was the lone American to advance – even his higher ranked teammates were unable to qualify. But that’s the way the sport works, the fastest racer doesn’t always come in first.
“My whole game-plan for the Olympics was focus on the details, worry about my board, my body position and the things that I could control,” he stated. Seth Wescott had won the first two gold medals for Team USA in snowboardcross, he would be the only one that could continue such a legacy. He wouldn’t let his mind wander forward though to the possibility of a medal hanging around his neck.
“I never wanted to think about the big picture because when you get distracted things can get away from you really quickly and easily,” he continued.
The wise Deibold made his move near the bottom of the hill – he was patient and in the back of the pack from beginning knowing he would have his chances. The 27 year old moved into third place after a competitor shifted too far to the outside on a turn. He had the bronze well in his grasp, he simply needed to land the final massive jump.
“All I could think about when I was coming down that last jump was stay on your feet,” Deibold recalled. “So many people have crashed over the course of the races that I would hate to be so close and have it fall through my hands at the last moment.”
He stomped it and leaned forward toward the finish line. Deibold was hit by the moment but it turned out to just be his ecstatic teammates. He lost his voice in the scrum – because screaming seemed like the only way to communicate at the time. The celebration was Rudy-esque as he lifted up and carried around on the shoulders of his teammates. Deibold could never have anticipated the emotional exuberance and sheer joy he felt.
Not only was he an Olympian, Deibold was – and still is – in the process of realizing he’s an Olympic medalist.
Unearthing that precious medal that is carefully stowed away in his makeshift case, Deibold cautiously shows it off. And it’s not like he isn’t proud of it, he just doesn’t want his most prized possession to get scratched.
“It’s all kind of surreal. I don’t know how to handle it,” he stated. The IOC has yet to send him a more permanent case but for the time being he’s fine keeping it in an old goggle bag.
Maybe it is the jetlag – he was whisked away following the closing ceremony and traveled nonstop until he landed in Colorado – that is making him question reality. He made his way home from the airport and was greeted by a small gathering of friends – they had decorated his condo in triumphant red, white and blue for Deibold’s return.
“Hopefully I get married and have kids some day and those will be some high points in my life but it’s hard for me to imagine anything surpassing this,” he continued.
He has media obligations and other various gathers that he’ll certainly take part in. Thanks to his newfound fame and platform – and some astutely poised advice from his coach on these chance – Deibold won’t overlook what the bronze medal has given him.
“Make sure you take every opportunity to do these sorts of things because it could be a chance to inspire the next generation,” he said was instructed to him. “I couldn’t begin to tell you how much it would mean to lift someone up like that.”
Whether his life will ever go back to normal – or if he even wants that to happen – is still very much in question. Despite it all, Deibold had conquered everything to win a bronze medal in Sochi at the Olympic games.