Feb 14, 2022 - Sports

How Nick Baumgartner became a hero of the Beijing Winter Olympics

Lindsey Jacobellis and Nick Baumgartner pose with their medals

Lindsey Jacobellis and Nick Baumgartner pose with their medals. Photo: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Nick Baumgartner, Team USA's oldest member, arrived in Beijing with three Olympic appearances but no medals. He'll leave as perhaps the best story of the Games.

Driving the news: Baumgartner, 40, and Lindsey Jacobellis, 36, won gold on Saturday in the new mixed team snowboard cross event, becoming the oldest and second-oldest snowboarders ever to medal.

"You're never too late to take what you want from life. You let yourself down if you quit too early, doesn't matter how old you are."
ā€” Baumgartner, after winning gold

The backdrop: Baumgartner's story harkens back to the modern Olympics' humble beginnings, when athletes came together every four years to represent their countries before returning to their ordinary lives.

  • Baumgartner doesn't have any big-money sponsors. He lives with his wife and 17-year-old son in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, where he makes a living pouring concrete and practices on a homemade track.
  • Despite that dedication, his Olympic career has been marked by near-misses and disappointment, including his 10th place finish in the individual event last week. Now he's on top of the world.

The bottom line: "If the superstars make the Olympics worth watching, then the grinders make them worth caring about," writes Slate's Justin Peters.

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