Olympics a family affair for Baumgartner

Olympian Nick Baumgartner used his son Landon “as a crutch” after his fourth-place finish in the men’s snowboardcross race at the 2018 Winter Olympics. It was Landon’s first time at the Olympics. (submitted photo)

IRON RIVER—At a truck race last fall, Nick Baumgartner struck up a conversion with Pekka Ruuskanen, president of his title sponsor, Ponsse North America.
    The Olympic snowboardcross racer, who had previously competed in the 2010 Games in Vancouver and the 2014 Games in Sochi, Russia, was discussing the possibility of Ruuskanen helping arrange his mother Mary’s trip to South Korea for the 2018 games should Baumgartner qualify again.
    “I asked him, ‘Could you keep my mom in mind so that we could link you guys up and kind of do the same flights and stuff,’” Baumgartner recalled. “‘Maybe she could piggy back for a ride, make it a little easier on her?’ And he says, ‘I’ll do you one better, you make that team, I’ll bring your mom.’”
    Sensing an opening, Baumgartner made his play.
    “I said, ‘You know, historically, I do better when my son (Landon) is there.’ And he said, ‘They’re both coming, we’ll make sure of it.’”
    And so it happened. Baumgartner did qualify for his third Olympics, and this time his son joined his mother, who had attended the previous two, in South Korea to watch him compete for his first Olympic medal, courtesy of Ponsse North America, which picked up a tab that Baumgartner estimated was “upwards of 10 grand.”
    Baumgartner certainly lived up to his word that his son’s presence would spur him to greater heights by finishing fourth this time around after finishing 20th in 2010 and tied for 25th in 2014. Yes, there was disappointment for the 36-year-old Baumgartner that he came so close to scoring his first medal, but what lessened that was having his son join his mother, his aunt Regina and his cousin William to watch his race in person.
    “Having Landon there completely changed the experience,” Baumgartner said. “Because it’s not just me out there, I have my son at the bottom (of the track), and this was my chance to make him proud.”
    Not that Baumgartner’s trek to his fourth-place finish was smooth. After spilling mid-race in the semifinals, Baumgartner roared back to finish second. Then in the final, he crashed again early in the final, but rebounded to take fourth.
    “I understand that it’s an honor to be able to do that well, but as a competitor, it’s kind of a bummer,” he said. “When I came across (the finish line), I’m a little like, ‘Ahhh, fourth place?’ But I look up and (Landon) is jumping up and down and, I mean, the look on his face was like I had just won the Olympics.”
    Landon watched much of the race on a giant screen in an enclosed area for friends and families at the bottom of the arena, which Baumgartner described as a big bowl, reminiscent of Pine Mountain, “just minus the ice shanties and all the partying,” Baumgartner said laughing.


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