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Dominant in all their heats, France’s Manon Petit and the USA’s Jake Vedder stayed strong in their respective finals to claim gold in the women’s and men’s snowboard cross competitions on Monday.
Hailing from the French ski resort of Carroz d’Arâches, 17-year-old Manon Petit made her intentions clear in the two qualifying runs on the challenging Hafjell snowboard cross course, beating the field by over half a second on both occasions.
Looking very relaxed on the board, the free-flowing French teenager continued to show her rivals a clean pair of heels, winning her five heats by some distance to cruise into the final.
Manon did not have things all her own way when the medals came up for grabs, however, with Switzerland’s Sophie Hediger sticking doggedly on her tail and pulling level on the corners before dropping off the pace with the finish in sight.
Nevertheless, the Swiss was in no way disappointed with her silver: “It was awesome,” she said, after beating Italy’s Caterina Carpano to the runner’s up slot. “Second place is amazing. I am so happy.”
Celebrating victory in the arrival area, a proud Manon grabbed hold of a French flag and waved to her numerous fans in the crowd. “My family and my friends who are here for me [are also in my heart],” she said. “It’s so beautiful to have a gold medal.”
Like Manon, Jake won each of his five heats but also had a much tougher time of it in the final, with Germany’s Sebastian Petrzykowski breathing down his neck first of all before Australia’s Alex Dixon surged into contention, pushing the American all the way to the line.
“Crossing that line was an emotional experience - it’s crazy, it’s awesome,” said the jubilant Jake. “I worked all summer. Before a race I try to stay in the moment and just be myself… routine pays off for sure. I shut everyone out and focus.”
Looking on was Jake’s mother Michelle Vedder, who knows better than anyone the mental processes her son goes through before his biggest races. Though she arrived in Norway last Wednesday, she barely had a chance to speak to her son until he had made the gold medal his, with Jake having locked himself away in the athletes’ village since the USA team’s arrival in Lillehammer.
“He is focused,” she said. “It is his life, he is dedicated. What does it mean to have him win an Olympic gold medal? It is amazing. As a family, you sacrifice, you live for this moment, and it’s all worth it. No one ever complains.”
Her son can be excused for taking a little time to realise just what he has achieved. Crowned Michigan regional state champion an impressive eight times in a row between 2006 and 2014, Jake has now taken an even bigger step forward in his promising career.
“Oh my gosh, it’s unbelievable,” he said. “To stand on top of a podium is incredible. I don’t know what I’m going to do with this medal. I might not even take it off.”