It is still sinking in with Jim Wescott that his son is the best in the world at snowboard cross.

In fact, Seth Wescott is the reigning champ in the sport, being the only person ever to win gold in the event.

Jim and his wife, Jo Wescott, Seth’s stepmother, returned recently to Belfast from a whirlwind week of Olympic events, medal ceremonies, press conferences and watching their son live his passion.

On Feb. 15, Seth Wescott, 33, of Carrabassett Valley, defended his title in snowboard cross in a stunning come-from-behind victory to beat Canada’s Mike Robertson and two other racers.

The snowboard cross event was first introduced at the 2006 Olympics in Turin, Italy, where Seth became the first gold medalist in the sport. Snowboard cross is an event in which a group of four snowboarders race simultaneously down a course to see who can be the first to cross the finish line.

“Weddings, funerals and Olympic gold bring interesting people together,” Jim said. Weddings are reunions to celebrate two people starting their lives together and funerals to celebrate someone’s life. It is similar with Olympic gold, because it brings friends together, he said.

Jim attended the Olympics in Turin when Seth won his first gold medal, but the Vancouver Olympics was the first for Jo.

When Seth won in Turin, Jo said, she was home watching on television and immediately after, the telephone just kept ringing and ringing and ringing.

“It’s been a celebration by everyone who has any association with Seth,” Jim said.

Jim, who coached track and field for 37 years, said he had received calls from former athletes of his, received letters and friends have sent newspaper clippings from various parts of the world.

“It is a real high to share these stories with people [in the local community],” Jim said. “It’s been fun, there is no question about it.”

Raising an Olympic champ

Jim, Seth, Seth’s mother, Margaret, and sister, Sarah, moved to Maine from North Carolina when Seth was 2 years old. The family moved to East Vassalboro, near China Lake, after Jim got a coaching job at Colby College in Waterville.

His father has memories of Seth, at maybe 3 years old, putting on cross country skis and poking around the backyard, but his first exposure to downhill skiing came in fifth grade after the family relocated to Rangeley for Seth’s mother’s work.

Seth, who was a good skier, also was a skateboarder and used to build ramps in the driveway for the skateboard. He eventually picked up snowboarding after he realized he could essentially skateboard year round, Jim said.

“I don’t think he’s put a pair of skis on since then,” his father said.

When Seth was a youngster, he and his father would build half pipes in the yard and were constantly playing outside together; his son’s love of snowboarding developed from there, Jim said.

The family eventually moved to Farmington, where Seth attended and graduated from Mount Blue High School and had been competing for several years on the New England circuit in snowboarding when he began training at Carrabassett Valley Academy, a ski and snowboard school.

Seth trained for the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, Japan, in the half-pipe event, where he just missed qualifying by one spot, according to his father, and did not qualify to compete in the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City.

It was then that Seth learned that snowboard cross was gaining in momentum and it was announced that it would be an event at the 2006 Olympics. At that time Seth got into the World Cup circuit, where he was the world champion in 2005.

Jim said this year has been pretty rough, with a good start to the year, but then Seth had a few crashes.

“So coming to the Olympics, even though he was the returning Olympic champion, he wasn’t favored [to win],” his father said. Seth’s teammate Nate Holland from California and Pierre Vaultier of France were the favorites.

Day of the race

The Wescotts got up at 4 a.m. to catch the bus to the mountain, which was the only way to get there.

“The logistics are amazing, which you don’t get to see sitting and watching on television,” Jo said.

At about 8 a.m. the athletes came out to check the course, which Jim said had to be fixed in some spots with bales of hay and plywood ramps to build up the courses under the snow because of the warm temperatures and heavy rains that had plagued the area.

At about 10 a.m. the time trials started, where 50 people do a run down the mountain by themselves in order to be ranked according to speed. At about 1 p.m. the races started, the Wescotts said. Seth was ranked 17th, but he won the first and second races and came in third in the third race. Jim said that is the same exact scenario as happened in Turin.

During the final race, just before Seth came over the last jump, he had just passed Robertson of Canada, who was in the lead, and Jo said she could see Seth come in at an angle.

While watching the Olympics live, the two said, there was a large JumboTron so they were able to see exactly what was going on.

“I thought, ‘Oh, he’s spending a lot of time behind that jump, what’s he doing?’ But then he popped up over the jump and then Robertson popped up on the other side,” Jo said.

“It wasn’t until just before that jump that we thought maybe he had a chance and they both popped up and he won,” Jo said.

She said she and her husband turned and they looked at each other and screamed “He won!”

They were watching from the bleachers and ran down to get closer.

“Everyone was screaming, flags were waving and it was just so wild,” Jo said.

Following the race, Seth told them that since Robertson was in the lead Seth could hear the roar of the excited crowd, which was full of lots of Canadian spectators. But Seth said he knew he had won because the crowd went quiet when he passed Robertson.

Immediately following the race, a flower award ceremony is held right there in front of the stands. It wasn’t until the next day that the medal ceremony was held.

The three winners were then whisked to an international media event where reporters from all over the world questioned them.

The family was then taken to the NBC studio in chauffeured vehicles. They said security to get into the studio was extremely tight. They had to wear credentials and the vehicle was searched by security and gone over with dogs before they were allowed in.

“I said to Jim, ‘We are not in Kansas anymore’,” Jo recalled.

Once at the studio, they were fed, since they hadn’t had a chance to eat all day and assumed Seth hadn’t had the chance to, either.

They had the chance to stand behind the scenes while Seth was interviewed by Bob Costas. Seth’s interview immediately followed Costas’ interview with Dick Button, a two-time Olympic figure-skating champion from the 1950s.

Jo and Jim returned to their hotel room around midnight and slept for about two hours before NBC again had them picked up to go to the set of the “Today” show.

They had a few hours of sleep in the afternoon before going to downtown Vancouver for the awards ceremony. Jim estimated that about 40,000 people were at the awards ceremony and the Canadian band Barenaked Ladies performed following the ceremony.

They returned home Feb. 17, to Belfast and have been processing the experience ever since, they both said.

The two said they did not take any photos while at the Olympics because they wanted to take in everything that was there without being behind a camera or cell phone.

“It’s exciting for Seth,” his father said. “It’s wonderful to have a child who is living their passion and just takes such pleasure in it. To think that in circumstances like this he can flash back to his youth and think of the fun he was having there and how it fits into what he presently is doing in life is really great.”

The Republican Journal reporter Kim Lincoln can be reached at klincoln@villagesoup.com or at 338-3333.