WEST VANCOUVER, B.C. — Bombing for the Olympic finish line, Canadian snowboarder Mike Robertson couldn’t shake the feeling of someone’s breath on the back of his neck.
The young snowboard-crosser, who has never won a World Cup race, emerged from the pack in the Olympic gold-medal final, with nothing but snow in front of his board.
Behind him, up the track, American snowboard veteran Seth Wescott was carving risky lines on the hill in a desperate push to catch up.
And then he did.
Wescott passed Robertson right before the home stretch to win his second straight Olympic gold in snowboard cross.
“I knew someone was going to be there, for sure,” the 24-year-old native of Canmore, said Monday after winning the Olympic silver medal.
“It’s the Olympics. Someone has to be there. I can’t just run away with it. Obviously I wanted to win for sure, but I’m so happy to be second.”
Tony Ramoin of France won the bronze medal and American boarder Nate Holland, who spun out in the final, finished fourth.
Robertson, who finished third overall in qualifying, tore up the track on Cypress Mountain throughout the day. He won all three races on his way to the four-man final.
Wescott, 33, saw Robertson was hot, so he cooked up a plan before the final.
“I knew if I could just stay with him until lower parts (of the course) . . . that I could probably generate speed to that final straightaway, and it worked,” he said.
Wescott, who won gold at the 2006 Turin Games, could feel the tumult from the screaming, mostly pro-Canada crowd as he sped toward the lower reaches of the track.
“I think I felt them collectively get bummed out when I made the pass on Mike, but it is what it is,” he said.
“It was different in (Turin) to hear them kind of erupt a little more, and I think it was maybe kind of the opposite emotion here.”
Robertson’s silver capped a good day on the mountain for the Canadians.
Rob Fagan of Cranbrook, B.C., won the consolation final to grab fifth place overall, Drew Neilson of nearby North Vancouver finished 11th and Francois Boivin of Jonquiere, Que., came 12th.
Robertson squeaked onto the Canadian Olympic team last month when he finished fifth in the final qualifier at Stoneham, Que. Nagging injuries slowed him over the year. Ranked 10th on the World Cup tour, he wasn’t touted as a medal favourite in the event.
Fagan said the quiet approach is what works for Robertson.
“He’s a very cool cat,” Fagan said. “He’s very mellow, you wonder if he’s even remotely in the room. He’s off in his own little world, and I think it works for big events. He knows how to not get caught up in everything.”
But Robertson found himself in a final that produced new elements of a Canada-U.S. rivalry that has been playing out on Cypress since the start of the Games.
Taking into account the medals won on the nearby moguls course, the Americans now have four medals on the peak compared to Canada’s three.
As the riders stood in the start gate before the final, chants of “Canada, Canada” from the grandstand barely muffled the shouts of “Holland, Holland” from a horde of American fans.
From the beginning of the race, Robertson and Holland were out in front, jostling side by side for a long stretch of the race.
“I don’t think it was dirty racing, I just think it was aggressive racing and it was good fun,” said Robertson, who eventually pulled away from Holland.
Holland was setting up to pass Robertson on the straightaway after Turn 4.
“I was going toe to toe with Robertson for a gold medal,” he said. “It’s not the best light up there and I didn’t see the hole and just spun out.”
Robertson, draped in a Canadian flag after the race, said he made a costly mistake late in the race.
“I just kind of missed a jump near the bottom and Seth rode it well and was able to pass me,” said Robertson, who caught up to Wescott near the finish line, but lost by a few metres.
“I didn’t know it was Wescott until I saw him beside me, and I said, ‘Aw, Jeez, he’s winning two golds.’ ”
The Canadian and U.S. boardersrossers exchanged friendly jabs at their opening Olympic news conferences last week.
Holland started things by telling reporters that Canadians can “own the podium” if they want, but the Americans were going to rent it for a month. He was referring to the $117-million program aimed at helping Canada win the most medals at the Winter Games
Neilson answered back later that day when asked about Holland’s comment.
“We’ve been training hard, we’ve had lots of support and we’re really well prepared, so that rent will be unaffordable as far as I’m concerned,” he said.
On Sunday, Holland called out the Canadian boarders for wearing snowpants that looked to be too tight, which he said could give them an edge.
There are no FIS rules that govern the fit of pants in snowboard cross, but he said Canada’s snug uniform pushed the limits of a gentlemen’s agreement.
“I don’t think my pants are that skinny,” Robertson said after the Olympic final.
“We tease each other, or whatever you want to call it, but it’s all in good fun. We’ll have a beer later and it’ll all be good.”