Eurosport - Sat, 27 Feb 00:27:00 2010
Nicolien Sauerbreij of the Netherlands raced through a driving rainstorm and fog to beat Russian Ekaterina Ilyukhina and grab the gold in the Olympic women's parallel giant slalom snowboarding in Whistler.
Sauerbreij's gold in Vancouver was her country's 100th in Winter and Summer Games history. It was also the first Dutch Winter Olympic gold to be won outside of speed skating and figure skating.
Sauerbreij, who trailed the Russian after the first run, navigated the early gates better to pull ahead in the second run and win the gold medal race by a slender margin.
As she crossed the finish line the 30-year-old Dutchwoman pumped her arms in the air and turned to look at the clock. Then she covered her mouth in disbelief, lifted her snowboard overhead and screamed to the crowd.
"I think we never had these conditions for a race," said Sauerbreij, who was giddy with amazement after winning gold. "I mean the conditions made it really really hard. It was freezing, freezing and wet."
The course proved tough for many riders who slipped on the wet snow and struggled due to poor visibility and steady rain.
The hours of driving rain and near-freezing temperatures also took a toll on the spectators, with only a few hundred brave and vocal flag-waving fans left by the final runs.
Sauerbreij, who changed out of her soaking wet clothes behind a backdrop in the press conference room before speaking to the media, said she never expected to be vying for gold.
"I knew I was good but to win here under these conditions - unbelievable," she said. "I had to tell myself 'concentrate, concentrate'. These are the Olympics - I couldn't believe I was going for gold or silver.
"No snowboarders in flat Holland? I think today I showed that snowboarders from Holland can be quite successful.
"Of course I do train in France and Switzerland. I have to train abroad," she said, laughing out loud.
Sauerbreij, coached by her father, could not train in her hometown of Amsterdam which, like most of the country, lies a metre below sea level. The Netherlands' highest peak, at 322 meters, is just half as high as Cypress Mountain.
"I have been training a lot in France. It costs a lot of energy but I always had that best feeling to do training abroad in the summer and then come back to Holland," she said.
"Sometimes I am very happy I do not live in the mountains. I have the difference sometimes just to go to the city and ride on my bike."
Silver medallist Ilyukhina, who gave Sauerbreij a scare after finishing the first run slightly ahead, said she had trained under these types of rainy conditions but it was hard to see the course and at times she felt like she was "groping her way" down the mountain.
Austria's Marion Kreiner said she had a hard time keeping her goggles clear but she still managed to see enough to win the bronze after beating Selina Joerg of German easily in the small final.
Factbox on Sauerbreij:
Place of birth: De Hoef, Netherlands
Residence: Amsterdam, Netherlands
Previous Olympic results:
12th, 2006 Winter Olympics, PGS
Fourth, 2007 World Championship, Parallel Slalom
Champion, 2007/08 World Cup, Parallel
She started skiing at the age of two and began snowboarding at 12-years-old on a board handmade by her father, Maarten, who is also her coach.
The 30-year-old suffered embarrassment at the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics after she put the wrong type of wax on her board and was barely able to slide down the hill.
Sauerbreij is second in this season's overall World Cup and leads the parallel standings. Her sister Marieke is also a professional snowboarder.
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