Michigan Olympic snowboarder Nick Baumgartner discusses what it took to bring home gold

Baumgartner grew up in the Upper Peninsula

Nick Baumgartner was the oldest athlete to compete for Team USA at the Beijing Olympics, and after competing in three other Olympics, he was hoping to finally win gold.

IRON RIVER, Mich. – I’ve been around a lot of athletes over the years and I love being around Olympians.

They know the drill. They know they kind of drift off the sports radar screen for three years or so and then return with a weird intensity as the Games approach. But most of them are so grateful for the attention when it finally comes, and that’s doubly true for someone like Nick Baumgartner who has been waiting so long for his moment in the Olympic sun.

For followers of snowboarding, he’s nothing close to a well-kept secret. (He’s won the X Games in snowboard cross.) But it took him four Olympiads to finally stand on the medal podium in Beijing, and while he loves the X Games and the world snowboarding circuit, he told me the Olympics are at a level all their own. And hanging out with him is a real joy.

He laughs easily, and in what I know is a sign of his Upper Peninsula upbringing, he’s fairly certain anyone in his path is a potential friend. (I love that.) His was my favorite story of the 2022 Olympic Games and after meeting him and spending time with him the story only got better.

The question he’ll be facing for some time now is whether he’ll try to make a run at a fifth Olympic team in 2026. He told me his mother is “100% northern Italian.”

The 2026 Games just happen to be in Milan in northern Italy. So the pressure is already there from family members who would love to attend an Olympics in the old country. (Hopefully by then we’ll be back to full attendance for fans and family.) But Nick is taking what feels like the only responsible course of action – one year at a time.

The next world championship for snowboard cross will be held in Georgia (the western Asian nation, not the southern state) and it’s on a track on which Nick tends to excel. If he performs well in Bakuriani next winter, that will be one big step toward Milan.

We were rooting like mad for the 40-year old who was the oldest member of the U.S. team. Imagine pulling for the same guy four years hence. It’s a tall order. But Nick told me he loves setting outrageous goals and trying to live up to them. There’s a Finnish word that gets thrown around a lot in the U.P. It’s sisu.

It doesn’t really have an exact English translation, but it’s something close to tenacity and grit, a kind of stick-to-itiveness that you might expect from the hearty Michiganders who make their homes and livings on the other side of the Mackinac Straits. Don’t be shocked if sisu carries Nick along to yet another improbable race.

Read: Michigan town holds parade for 40-year-old gold medalist

About the Author:

Devin Scillian is equally at home on your television, on your bookshelf, and on your stereo. Devin anchors the evening newscasts for Local 4. Additionally, he moderates Flashpoint, Local 4's Sunday morning news program. He is also a best-selling author of children's books, and an award-winning musician and songwriter.