ASPEN, Colo. -- When Nick Baumgartner stunned the Snowboarder X field and won his first gold medal in seven tries at last year's Winter X Games, he ended one of the greatest winning streaks in X Games history. Now, the man who owned that streak, Nate Holland, wants his gold medal back.
Holland had won five consecutive golds before settling for bronze last year, a feeling that didn't sit well with the 33-year-old from North Lake Tahoe. He dedicated himself last summer and fall to reclaiming what he believes is his, spending a couple of months training at the U.S. team's Center of Excellence in Utah. Then he validated that preparation with a win and runner-up finish on the World Cup circuit earlier this month. By qualifying No. 2 out of 27 riders at Buttermilk on Friday (Baumgartner was fourth; Canadian Rob Fagan won), Holland is in good position to win his sixth gold in seven years.
"It was a shock," he said of last year's result. "I knew it was coming -- I know I can't stay on top forever -- but I actually came down to that last jump and thought I was in the draft and still might have it. When I came across the line I was pretty bummed I was in third, but I had a great run at it and I was still right there. I can't dwell on that now. I'm super motivated and riding really well, and I know how to get that gold back."
Holland and Baumgartner were two of four Americans to crack the top 10 in qualifying, which seeds the athletes for Saturday's elimination heats. Despite the absence of two-time Olympic gold medalist Seth Wescott, who's missing his first Winter X Games in 14 years because of a torn pectoral muscle, if a U.S. rider wins gold, it'll be the seventh year in a row that has happened -- no small feat when considering how popular the sport is in Europe.
"The U.S. Team is so strong," Holland said after his qualifying run. "I think on the men's side of the boardercross World Cup, we've had a guy on the podium at every event for over two years now. So it made sense to me that a U.S. rider won [at Winter X] last year, and I was pumped for Baumgartner. But I've had enough of that, and I want that gold back."
The women's qualifying runs were postponed Friday because of time constraints, but the field might never have been as wide open as it is this year. That's because four-time defending champ Lindsey Jacobellis, whose seven gold medals make her the winningest female athlete in Winter X history, tore her ACL while training this week.
Though two-time WX gold medalist and 2010 Olympic champion Maelle Ricker is the favorite, don't be surprised to see Callan Chythlook-Sifsof move up from silver to gold. She'll be riding a board waxed by her friend and Jacobellis' tech, Curtis Bacca, because Jacobellis is unable to compete.