BARDONECCHIA, Italy, - Oh, brother, are these guys good.
Since they were kids, Swiss snowboarders Philipp and Simon Schoch have raced countless times, whether down the street or down the slopes. Only this time, there was an Olympic gold medal awaiting the winner.
“We knew we’d have many memories of this. We said, ’Let’s enjoy it and may the better one win,” Philipp said, recalling a conversation Wednesday at the top of the parallel giant slalom course. “Today it was me. Sorry, Simon.”
The 26-year-old Philipp became the first two-time gold medal winner in snowboarding, now in its third Olympics. He won his first in 2002 and since then, the Schoch brothers have been the first family of PGS, as their discipline is known.
They entered the Olympics with Simon ranked first and Philipp second on the World Cup circuit, hoping to meet in the finals — something they began focusing on in earnest earlier this season, when it became clear they were still the two best PGS racers in the world.
“We knew that we could do it. It’s actually a dream come true,” said Simon, 27. “It’s the best way it could happen.”
In the championship heat against his brother, Simon Schoch slid wide on a gate in the first run, his hand touching the snow as he narrowly avoided wiping out. It left him with a .88-second deficit he could not make up on the second and final run.
The Schochs (pronounced Shock) became the first brothers in more than 20 years to win gold and silver in the same event at the same games. Americans Phil and Steve Mahre finished first and second in slalom at the Sarajevo Games in 1984.
Riding a board he’d named “Torino” for good luck, Austrian Siegfried Grabner took bronze easily after Frenchman Mathieu Bozzetto fell in the first run of their head-to-head battle for the final spot on the podium.
It was as well as Grabner expected to do.
“For me the bronze medal shines like a gold medal,” he explained. “Being third behind these guys is a great job, too.”
The brothers call each other best friends and enjoy numerous hobbies together, from mountain biking to wake boarding. They know to cherish one another, having lost older brother Thomas in a fatal car accident in 1996.
They used to beat up each other when they were in school, but only because they competed in Schwingen, a popular form of wrestling in Switzerland.
“I’m sure it was possible back then that one of us used to cry when we’d lose to the other one,” Simon said.
Their mother did most of the crying following the PGS final, while her sons hugged one another at length, then posed, arms around each other’s shoulders, for one of the more special family photos they’ll ever take.
It was a victory of a different kind for Tyler Jewell, the lone American sent to the PGS.
He made the finals by finishing ninth in morning qualifying, but lost to Slovenian Dejan Kosir in the first round of heat races. Kosir went on to finish sixth.
Starting his first finals heat on the blue course, which had been faster all day, Jewell led Kosir by .29 of a second after the pair’s first run, meaning Kosir’s starting gate would open that much later than Jewell’s when they switched courses for their second run. Moving to the faster course, Kosir ate up Jewell’s lead within the first few gates. The two stayed even until Jewell, looking for a tighter line on his turns, smacked hard into a gate and lost a bit of momentum.
“I think that maybe cost me, but today I can look myself in the mirror,” Jewell said. “I took a chance and it either was going to pay off or not. It was close.”
Jewell, who turned 29 Tuesday, hopes to compete through 2010, when the Olympics will be in Vancouver. He couldn’t imagine quitting now after all he went through to get to the top of the U.S. snowboarding team’s PGS squad.
The former Boston College lacrosse player has lived out of his car and in a tent during parts of his training the past four years.
Sometimes his only meals were three nutrition bars per day. Other times, he ate at a hospital, where meals were only $2.50. Despite his early exit from the finals, he smiled and exhibited a sense of pride in what he did to make the Winter Games and qualify for the final heats.
“Just getting here, everything I had to do financially ... to me the coolest thing is I followed my heart through thick and thin and everything worked out,” Jewell said.
Check out the best images from the 2006 Winter Olympics.