Seth Wescott just laughs when asked if he's just sandbagging.
The two-time Olympic gold medalist in men's snowboardcross loves overcoming long odds — it's kind of his thing — but trust him, the last two years haven't been some sort of elaborate plot to simply up the stakes as he vies for a historic three-peat in Sochi.
A shoulder injury cut short his 2012 season. He tore the ACL in his left knee and broke his tibia while backcountry riding in Alaska in April and admits he's barely halfway through the recovery period for a torn patella tendon.
And yet, as the weeks leading up to Sochi dwindle to mere days, the 37-year-old insists his comeback bid is legit.
“I hope I'm physically ready for February,” Wescott said. “I know that when I get to that stage there is something I can access on those days I can't access on other days of my career. There's a thrill to see if that's still waiting for me.”
That sense of the moment hasn't let him down yet.
Not in Turin eight years ago, when the former halfpipe specialist slipped by Radoslav Zidek in the first Olympic snowboardcross final to earn his first gold medal. Not in Vancouver in 2010, when he overcame a slow start to nip Canadian Mike Robertson by the length of a board.
The introspective Wescott can't quite explain why he's able to summon that little extra necessary to make history. He just knows it's tucked away somewhere. Call it the byproduct of a lifetime in the mountains. And being an elder statesmen in a sport where few make it past their early 30s helps too.
Wescott has won. He has lost. He has been flawless and flamed out on the same weekend. He rides with a fearlessness that comes with being comfortable in your own skin and a focus that prevents outside forces overwhelming him on the biggest stages.
“I can drink the pressure in and it feels phenomenal,” Wescott said. “I want to have that experience and it brings on that extra level of meaning. I don't know, it always seems like in my career the more things I have to juggle, the better the athletic performances become.”
A dedicated environmentalist, Wescott isn't afraid to speak his mind. He made pointed remarks about Russia's anti-gay stance last fall and isn't exactly backing away from them despite the threat of a backlash if he makes it to Sochi.
“I have lesbian teammates, they're wonderful,” he said. “I wish the IOC would take into consideration if you're going to award the Olympics to someone, it should be a society that doesn't discriminate against people who participate in the Olympics.”
He Is just as passionate about climate change. He shakes his head at the impact it has had on the mountains and believes his sport needs to find a more efficient way to do business. Setting up a snowboardcross course is expensive and dirty work. Those mounds of snow don't just magically fall into place. They're packed in by machines, ones that burn tons of fuel.
Wescott is intent on helping find a better way, though he has no intentions of throwing his snowpants and goggles into a closet and becoming an adviser. He sees no reason he can't continue to do this well into his 40s, becoming for snowboardcross what Kelly Slater has become for surfing. The 41-year-old Slater remains the class of his sport. There's a sense of purpose deep within Wescott guiding him to do the same.
“I would love to be that guy in our discipline,” he said. “Just knowing myself and knowing my genetics ... I know I have ability to have longevity in the sport as long as I'm progressing personally, getting better and getting faster.”
He may need to do both quickly if he wants to guarantee himself a spot in Sochi. Wescott's return to competition at a World Cup event in Andorra last week didn't exactly go to play. He didn't crack the top 30 over the course of two days of competition, leaving Team USA in a tight spot.
Three Americans — Olympic veteran Nate Holland and newcomers Trevor Jacob and Alex Deibold — have locked up automatic spots. One discretionary pick remains, one that likely comes down to Wescott and good friend Nick Baumgartner. Baumgartner's results this year have been promising. Yet Wescott remains the one with two Olympic golds tucked away somewhere.
To be honest, a resume check isn't the way he wants to make the team.
“I haven't even entertained the conversations about the coach's discretion,” he said.
Even if just walking into a meeting with his coaches with gold draped around his neck would provide a pretty compelling argument.
Maybe that's why Wescott is already talking about heading to Korea in 2018. He'll be 41 then, and while that means four more years of training, it also means four more years of experience. Sure, he's the old guy on the mountain. That doesn't mean he's the slowest.
“There's something about being in live races that you really can't experience anywhere else,” he said. “I don't have the drive to do that all the time, but I'm going to restructure my time schedule over next few years. There's something fun about riding in close proximity. You're kind of playing with them. There is this kind of interactive dance with each other.”
One that will go on whether Wescott heads to Sochi or not.