Men’s snowboard cross Olympic preview: Can a deep U.S. team upset the medal favorites?

Snowboard cross

With slopestyle and halfpipe concluded, the next snowboarding competition to take the Olympic spotlight will be men’s boardercross.

A lot of the excitement in boardercross comes from its unpredictability. It’s not uncommon to see top medal favorites crash out in the early rounds, which can leave podium spots wide open for the taking.

Here’s a look at what to expect from the competition on Thursday (Wednesday night in the U.S.).

The International Field

Here are a few of the medal contenders to know.

Pierre Vaultier, France: The defending Olympic champion and reigning world champion. Vaultier won this event in 2014 despite competing with a torn ACL. (He wore a knee brace during his races in Sochi.) With a pair of wins this season, Vaultier is comfortably atop the World Cup standings and could be on his way to winning a sixth Crystal Globe. But, for right now, his focus is on a second Olympic title. This will be Vaultier’s fourth Olympics.

Alex Pullin, Australia: Currently No. 2 in the World Cup rankings. Alex “Chumpy” Pullin, who won a pair of World Cup races in September, is a two-time world champion and a two-time Crystal Globe winner. This will be his third Olympics. (His best finish so far is just 13th.)

Omar Visintin, Italy: One of the top medal favorites in Sochi, Visintin crashed out of his semifinal heat and had to be carried off the course on a stretcher. The 2014 Crystal Globe winner has already won two World Cup events this season and is currently ranked No. 4. This will be his second Olympics.

Team USA

Although the U.S. team isn’t favored to win a medal, don’t count this team out. Anything can happen in snowboard cross, and there is podium potential across the board.

If there were any questions about the depth of this team, just look at two of the names who did not make the cut this year — 2014 Olympic bronze medalist Alex Deibold and three-time Olympian Nate Holland.

Nick Baumgartner: The only returning Olympian on the team. Baumgartner competed at the 2010 and 2014 Olympics but has a best finish of 20th. He’s optimistic about PyeongChang though after placing third at the Olympic test event here in 2016. According to Baumgartner, the course suits his strengths as a racer very well.

Jonathan Cheever: Cheever has been competing on the World Cup circuit for the last decade — he even finished 3rd overall in 2011 — but this is his first trip to the Olympics. Earlier this season, he reached the podium at a race in Argentina. To help fund his career, Cheever works as a part-time plumber.

Mick Dierdorff: Currently Team USA’s highest ranked athlete in the World Cup standings at No. 6. Dierdorff has been a consistent top-10 finisher this season and was on the podium at a race in September. He’s taken a sizeable step forward this season at age 26.

Hagen Kearney: Kearney was ranked No. 5 in the World Cup standings last season and has several top-10 finishes this year. The motorcycle enthusiast usually wears a leather jacket when he races, but in PyeongChang, he’ll instead be rocking the NASA-themed uniforms that Burton designed for the U.S. snowboard team. When he’s not racing, Kearney plays guitar in a hard rock band in Salt Lake City.

How to Watch

NBCOlympics.com will be streaming every round of every competition live online. Links to each stream are below.

Seeding Runs: Wednesday, Feb. 14, 9:00 p.m. ET
LIVE STREAM

Elimination Rounds: Wednesday, Feb. 14, 11:30 p.m. ET
LIVE STREAM

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