Park City • Faye Gulini is back, Graham Watanabe is leaving, and Nate Holland … well, the iconic snowboardcross rider was stung by another close-but-not-quite finish at the U.S. Grand Prix at Canyons Resort on Sunday.
“I remember this from the Olympics,” he said.
That’s where Holland finished fourth — painfully just off the medal podium at the 2010 Vancouver Games. And that’s where the six-time Winter X Games champion wound up at the Grand Prix, after crashing near the start.
But the 19-year-old Gulini finished second in the women’s final, in just her second competition since recovering from knee surgery 10 months ago.
And that was a major accomplishment for the Salt Lake City native, who competed at the 2010 Vancouver Games like Holland and Watanabe but said she’s “always scared” to go racing down the mountain shoulder-to-shoulder with three other women — especially when fog and falling snow are obscuring the harrowing course.
“I needed this,” Gulini said. “I needed a little confidence booster, because I went to the last World Cup and it was really stressful. I was really nervous. But it is good to be back, and hopefully, it will carry over into the last two World Cups.”
Although Canada’s Dominique Maltais beat her in the women’s final, Gulini became the U.S. champion because the event doubled as the national snowboardcross championships and an injury kept two-time Olympian Lindsey Jacobellis out.
Holland earned that title, too, even though he finished far behind men’s winner Markus Schairer of Austria.
So did Watanabe, technically.
But the Park City resident and two-time Olympian failed to reach the men’s championship final, and had to settle for winning the consolation final to claim fifth place in his last race before retiring from competition.
Naturally, the free-spirited rider who once described competing in the Olympics to riding the tamed offspring of a Pegasus and a unicorn said he doesn’t really have many plans for his future, beyond a road trip next month to “chase down the best snow we can find.”
“Beyond that, it’s just leaving every door open and seeing what comes my way,” he said. “My plan … is to just go see what else the world has to offer.”
Watanabe said he will continue snowboarding, and not everybody is convinced he’s done competing. “It wouldn’t surprise me to see him back in the start gate,” Holland said.
U.S. Grand Prix
At Canyons Resort
Gold • Markus Schairer, Austria
Silver • Alessandro Haemmerle, Austria
Bronze • Jarryd Hughes, Australia
Gold • Dominique Maltais, Canada
Silver • Faye Gulini, USA
Bronze • Maria Ramberger, Austria