Friday, February 24, 2006

The Winter Olympics, seen through a waxer's eyes

Ketchum's Curtis Bacca and his messages from Torino


Olympic gold medalist Seth Wescott displays his medal alongside Ketchum wax specialist Curtis Bacca. Courtesy photo

The 2006 Winter Olympics are nearly history, but the memories will linger for a long time—certainly for Ketchum's Curtis Bacca, 44, owner of The Waxroom in Ketchum.

A ski technician for the U.S. Snowboard Team at Torino, Italy, Bacca was on the scene for nearly all the Olympic developments, and there were quite a few newsworthy events.

Bacca, a well-traveled ski technician with much success to his credit, worked with local alpine racers Reggie Crist for 15 years and Zac Crist for 12. He was the waxer for U.S. alpine stars Tommy Moe and Kyle Rasmussen.

His work with U.S. Snowboarding's Nate Holland at last year's Gravity Games and the 2005 World Cup in Lake Placid attracted the attention of coach Peter Foley of the U.S. Snowboard Team. And Bacca earned his ticket to Torino.

Bacca said, "The team is really fun. It's just like being with the U.S. downhillers 15 years ago."

The following are some of Bacca's e-mailed messages home from the Winter Games. Enjoy some behind-the-scenes comments from Torino!:

Message from Feb. 5:

I am flying to the Olympics on Tuesday, I'll keep you guys in touch with updates. I am very fired up!

I believe the U.S. Snowboarding Team is really strong this year. Great potential in both pipe and boarder-cross. I am in charge of waxing and testing for the team, but I will primarily focus on the boardercross team because that is where wax, structure and base make the greatest difference. The Men's SBX team consists of Nate Holland (Squaw Valley, CA, originally from Sandpoint), Seth Wescott (Sugarloaf, Me.), Jason Smith (Basalt, Colo.) and Jayson Hale (Sierraville, Ca.).

I've been traveling with Holland the past two years. He just won the X Games and has a first and second this year on the World Cup SBX. Wescott is the reigning world champion. He has a second and third on the World Cup this year. Jason Smith (Earz) just won the World Cup in Kronplatz, Italy. Jayson Hale has a third and fourth this season.

There is only one woman on the SBX team—reigning world champion and arguably the best in the world, Lindsey Jacobellis (from the VISA commercial).

This group has potential for medals, and some gold medal favorites. I have worked two previous Olympics, Albertville and Lillehammer with the U.S. Men's Alpine Ski Team. Tommy Moe, Kyle Rasmussen and AJ Kitt were very strong. Tommy got a gold and silver I 1994, but I believe this group is stronger.

I don't think I have ever had this many strong horses going into the games!

From Feb. 14

Hi guys, we have been jamming. I'll try to send a detailed update ASAP. Here are some photos—Jason Smith, boardercross inspection; Lindsey Jacobellis and Nate Holland at the Torino airport; the Olympic snowboard grandstands; Nate Holland, watching the men's halfpipe finals; and Shaun White in his finals run. Not very good photos yet, I'll get good ones later.

P.S.—Graham Watanabe is my helper. He is testing all the boards on the test track for me, helping wax, taking video and really helping the whole team, He is the alternate in case anyone gets hurt.

Later on Feb. 14

One of the boardercross Olympians just got hurt today, he got sledded off, then X-rays and MRI in Sestriere.

Bad news, but good news for Graham Watanabe, he was just here to test and wax with me, he couldn't even ride down the course. Now he has a bib, and trained this afternoon, it looks like he is going to get to race at the Olympics.

We are having someone from Park City, who was flying today bring his two race boards from home. He is staying at the house with us, not even in the Olympic Village. We just got off the hill, more later.

From Thursday, Feb. 16

Check out NBC tonight to view the Olympics, Seth Wescott got the gold!

Crazy day, I have been jamming since five this morning, then heavy snow during qualifications, then changing to blue bird and sunshine. I've been testing boards and wax for seven days, then new snow today which is completely different than all that testing, so I audibled at the line of scrimmage with the wax, but it worked out!

The other boys rode great, they won their early rounds, then just had bad luck. Another big one tomorrow, with Lindsey J. going for gold with the women.

Food has been outstanding! People have been very friendly, massive security, we get police escorts to and from the venues. Also have our own Secret Service and State Department security dudes with us at all times.

I got to run. USA! USA! USA!

From Feb. 17

Wow, what an emotional day! Lindsey had it. Silver is great, but what a way to give it away. Check it out on TV. I feel bad for her, she is getting destroyed by the press. Off to Torino, for the real parties! Back to Sestriere for the super G tomorrow.

From Feb. 18

Here are some pics of the gold medal and Seth, after two straight days of celebrating.

From Feb. 20

Here is a photo of our security dudes from the State Department. These guys were awesome. They are the real deal and handle all the major dignitaries. The Secret Service was also there, but caused all sorts of problems with security when Jenna Bush came on Sunday. She was late for the event and complained about her seats and food. Meanwhile, Graham was a media star. He did interviews with every major network, and even some international interviews with Japan TV, etc. I even did two interviews on NBC, and one for NPR. It was crazy.

Later on Feb. 20

Well it is finally starting set in. The whole experience has been amazing.

This was my third Olympics but by far the best. The whole day of Seth's gold medal was non-stop from 5 a.m. Everything was happening very fast, but we still had time to have detailed conversations about strategy and board choice. It was like time slowed down at certain moments.

The final run of Seth's was unreal. He is truly a champion, obviously a great rider and athlete. His boards were rolling, but I feel his most important asset was his mental approach and smarts. He was totally focused and knew his abilities, and the abilities and characteristics of the other riders. He knew every section of the course and knew the best places to pass and make his move.

It was the classic Disney-type story, All-American good guy Seth Wescott from the backwoods of Maine, who loves to free-ride in Alaska in the finals against the European hard-booter who trains Eastern-bloc style in the gates. And the ending with Seth making the pass at the end.

Most all of the other athletes and coaches were very excited that Seth won, partially because he is a soft-booter. There are still some hard-booters on the tour and if a hard-booter would have won, it would have been bad for the sport.

The other boys were riding great and were very fast also in the early rounds, they just either had bad luck or didn't make the right move at the right time. They also had the ability and skill to win, but Seth was just totally on, as he usually is at big-time events.

Nate and "Earz" are totally cool with each other, the media was making way too much of Nate's comments. Nate is just a great fiery competitor who has been focused for four years on winning Olympic gold. He came to Torino to win Olympic gold, his motto has always been "win or wreck". He was just disappointed. He will continue to have great success, he is a bulldog and when he gets in the start around the other racers he finds an extra gear.

"Earz" Jason Smith was also riding well that day. He smoked his first two rounds and just made a tactical error in the round with Seth. He too will continue to be a strong force on the tour.

Graham, what a crazy ride for him, he was awesome! He came to Torino to help me wax and test boards, he was sleeping on the couch at our house and he didn't even have credentials to get on the course. So he helped video and gave advice during film sessions.

Hale got hurt. Graham was in.

He still stayed grounded, he continued to stay with us at the coaches' house. We even gave him a bed! He rode well and qualified for the finals, but then he got tangled in some traffic. He too will be back, he is a very skilled and athletic rider. He arguably has the best turning skills on the tour.

Jayson Hale blew his knee out again (ACL), but the kid is only 20 and will be back stronger than ever, if they can just keep him in one piece.

Lindsey Jacobellis, it was definitely heartbreaking for all of us. She should be still very proud of the silver medal. She rode great and had some really tough rounds. Even though she didn't get the gold, everyone knows she is the best in the world for the women right now. It was a really tough mistake and lesson to learn.

She wasn't trying to show anyone up, she just wanted to add some style to the crowd. Snowboarders like to add some flavor for the crowd. She would probably make that move 999 out of 1,000 times.

I was upset how the media grilled her, especially Bob Costas. If I see him, hopefully you won't find my name in the police blotter after my confrontation. Lindsey is just a kid, she is a young 20. She is not a media-hardened pro like Barry Bonds. She got ready for the race by watching "The Little Mermaid", and we were at the start talking about her new puppy "Gigot" before the race.

She is just a kid. It is going to be a long time for redemption for her, hopefully it doesn't eat her up to much inside.

I am so proud of my riders and the rest of the coaching staff. It was an awesome experience that I will always remember.

Ciao, Curtis.




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