By Dan Guttenplan
---- — Scotty Lago is officially in Olympic training mode.
The Seabrook snowboarder who won bronze in the halfpipe at the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver, British Columbia, has made his way out to Copper Mountain in Colo., for the opening of the first Olympic-size halfpipe in North America for the season.
The first of five Olympic qualifiers in the halfpipe will take place next weekend in Breckenridge, Colo., and the second will be the following weekend at Copper Mountain.
Back in 2010, Lago earned one of four spots in the halfpipe on the United States Olympic team by placing second twice and third once in five Olympic qualifiers. He could potentially secure a spot on the 2014 team as early as Christmas with top finishes at the two qualifiers in December.
“In theory, I could get it done before then, but that would be a Christmas miracle,” Lago said.
Lago is still widely recognized as one of the top snowboarders in the world four years after he competed in his first Olympic Games in Vancouver. He is on a short list of favorites to earn a medal in Sochi, Russia, the site of the 2014 Games.
Opening Ceremonies are scheduled for February 7. After spending much of September, October and November at home in Hampton Falls, Lago plans to train and compete right through the Olympics, with the exception of a small window from Dec. 23 to 27 when he plans to come home for Christmas.
“I’m feeling pretty good,” Lago said. “I’m getting my tricks back slowly. I’m staying healthy, and I feel pretty confident.”
At 26, Lago is now an elder statesman in a sport in which he became a professional at the age of 16 in 2004. He was an alternate for the 2006 Olympic team before emerging as the biggest American threat to unseat reigning Olympic gold medalist Shaun White in 2010.
As is White’s custom, he put on a show at the 2010 Games, earning gold and creating a sizable distance between himself and the field. However, Lago, with his third-place finish, cemented his legacy as one of the most creative, stylish — albeit a bit unconventional due to his tall 6-foot-1 frame — snowboarders in the world.
This winter, White, 27, and Lago may grace the halfpipe for the final time as Olympians. Snowboarders over the age of 30 are a rarity in the sport, particularly in the halfpipe, at international competitions.
“There’s definitely all kinds of younger kids now,” Lago said. “I’m literally competing against 14-year-olds. Snowboarding is a young sport, but it’s all what you want to do. If I want to, I could keep competing after the Olympics. I probably will for a few more years or so.”
Although Lago could certainly support himself as a professional snowboarder before the 2010 Games, it’s fair to say his bronze-medal performance changed his life. He spent the months immediately following the Games working the celebrity circuit, going on talk shows including Jimmy Kimmel Live, making guest appearances at schools and libraries, inking endorsement deals, and traveling the world for video shoots. Another medal at the 2014 Games could certainly prolong Lago’s staying power.
Four Americans will likely earn spots on the Olympic team in the halfpipe. At the 2013 X Games, which is considered the biggest international competition in non-Olympic years, Lago placed second among Americans and fourth overall in the halfpipe.
“Against the rest of the Americans, I’m right up there,” Lago said. “I’m in the top two. It’s Shaun No. 1, and hopefully me No. 2. I’d like to see the qualifiers go like that.”
Just last week, Lago was named to the 2014 Snowboarding United States National Team, giving the Seabrook native access to the training facilities, gear and training staff. He is in the process of perfecting a new trick — a Cab 720 with a late method — he plans to perform in his run at the Olympic Games, should he make the team.
“I’ve been messing with a new trick recently,” Lago said. “I came up with a cool idea. It’s not super-technical, but I think it looks pretty cool.”
The Lago File
Name: Scotty Lago
Residence: Hampton Falls
Olympic experience: Won bronze medal in halfpipe at 2010 Games
Goal: Return to the podium at 2014 Games
What’s next: Qualifiers begin next weekend in Breckenridge, Colo.