Baumgartner relishes Olympics, with son

Iron River native Nick Baumgartner, center, runs the course during the men's snowboard cross quarterfinal at Phoenix Snow Park on Feb. 15 at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

The 2022 Winter Olympics will be staged in Beijing, China.

Iron River’s Nick Baumgartner expects to be there gunning for snowboard cross gold. He’ll be 40 years of age then, same as New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.

“If Brady can do it, Baumgartner can do it,” he told the media in Pyeongchang, South Korea, home of this year’s Winter Olympics. “I’ll be here in four years — absolutely.

“I’m still hunting for one of those medals. This is my third Games. If I gotta go until I’m 100 to get a medal, I’m going to keep doing it.”

Baumgartner drew the attention of Olympic fans for his effort in the crash-filled snowboard cross finals and the devotion to his 13-year-old son, Landon. He looked for his son in the crowd immediately after finishing fourth in the event.

Iron River native Nick Baumgartner celebrates after his run during the men's snowboard cross semifinals at Phoenix Snow Park at the 2018 Winter Olympics on Feb. 15 in Pyeongchang, South Korea. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

“I’m proud of how I competed,” Baumgartner said. “My kid’s not disappointed with me, so how I can be disappointed. I crashed — that’s part of the game. Sometimes you gotta pay to play. I’m walking out of here with fourth place, my best finish yet. My son is here to enjoy it with me — it’s a proud moment.”

Landon’s assessment of his dad? “I think he is pretty awesome.”

Baumgartner, at age 36 the oldest snowboard cross competitor, crashed in the semifinal but recovered to place second.

In the Big Final or medal event, Baumgartner took another tumble.

“It was that drafting that fouled up Baumgartner in the final,” wrote Jason Blevins of the Denver Post, noting the West Iron County High School graduate “gathered too much speed behind the final’s leaders and soared off a jump and cratered.”

Baumgartner scrambled to his feet but three others, including gold medalist Pierre Vaultier of France, raced ahead.

A US Ski and Snowboard representative said Baumgartner and teammate Mick Dierdorff “carried a lot of speed into a jump between turns two and three and went deep, wiping out their landings.”

Just missing a medal in his third Winter Olympics — he was 20th at 2010 Vancouver and unable to get past the first round at 2014 Sochi — didn’t dampen Baumgartner’s outlook.

“I’m 36 years old and to be here representing the U.S., my hometown back in the UP, my family, man, I’m on top of the world,” Baumgartner said. “Being from a small community everyone rallies behind you. To know that I’m representing that kind of people, it’s pretty rad.”

During a pre-race press conference, Baumgartner was asked about being a Yooper.

“Hard to explain,” he said with a smile. “Good people. You have to go up there. You have to see.”

Jeff Seidel of the Detroit Free Press summed up Baumgartner superbly: “If ever there was somebody who represents everything that is right about the Olympics — competing with the intensity of a warrior, while accepting defeat with grace and dignity, showing class and incredible composure — it is this 36-year-old concrete worker from the Upper Peninsula.”

It isn’t easy or cheap to be a world-class athlete. Baumgartner has expenses traveling the continents for competitions.

“Everyday life is a little bit of a struggle,” said Baumgartner, who welcomes the opportunity to visit schools and explain how hard work pays off. “Financially and organizationally, it takes a toll. It’s difficult to carry a job when I’m leaving to snowboard all of the time. I’m not a rich man. I struggle every day like everyone else. Paycheck to paycheck. I get one paycheck, though, and have to make it last the entire season.

“I’m fortunate with what I get to do, though. I’ve been to over 20 countries doing this. I’ll deal with growing up in a few years so I can enjoy the time I have now. It gets difficult sometimes, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I have no regrets.”