Alex Deibold 3rd in snowboardcross

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KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia -- Alex Deibold has always been a grinder.

Four years ago, he went to the Olympics as a technician -- a man with a hand in waxing, scraping and, yes, grinding the snowboards into shape for America's top riders.

He's too busy for that sort of work now.

When he heads home from Sochi, Deibold will carry the Olympic bronze medal he won Tuesday in snowboardcross -- a sparkling reward for the behind-the-scenes grunt work he did all those years en route to the podium.

Pierre Vaultier of France held off hard-charging Nikolay Olyunin of Russia to win the gold.

Vaultier fended off several advances by Olyunin in the final, drawing clear over the final jumps to victory. Vaultier, 26, won all four of his races in the midst of a steady drizzle that created plenty of chaos -- the signature of snowboarding's answer to auto racing.

Deibold won bronze after narrowly edging teammate Trevor Jacob in the semifinals.

"It was grueling work but a situation I was grateful for," the 27-year-old from Manchester Center, Vt., said of working as a technician. "But it gave me motivation over the last four years. When I was standing on the podium, wrapping that flag around myself, all that sacrifice and work didn't seem like a damn thing."

Deibold's third-place finish was the highlight for the U.S. team on a wacky, rain-soaked day on the snowboardcross course -- one that began with veteran Nick Baumgartner and seven-time Winter X Games champion Nate Holland being eliminated in their opening heats.

That left Deibold and Jacob as the only U.S. riders remaining in the field -- the only two with any chance of prolonging the string of American dominance in the men's side of this sport, where Seth Wescott had won the first two Olympic gold medals. And it came down to Deibold and Jacob, racing side-by-side in the first semifinal and vying for third place -- and the last spot in the medal race.

They leaped simultaneously over the second-to-last jump. Deibold was nudging Jacob with his leg while Jacob was pushing Deibold by his shoulder. They both stayed upright and even.

At the finish, they both slid for the line, the way a runner would go into second base. Deibold's board crossed a hair in front of Jacob's. As they waited for the result of the photo finish to pop up on the board, the two shared an embrace.

"A little bit of a heated day, but you don't hate the person," said Jacob, who was relegated to the consolation race and finished ninth. "Rubbin' is racin', and we were literally rubbin' out there. He's one of your best friends and you're racing with him. It's 'I don't want to hurt you.' But it's a race."

It's hard for anyone on the U.S. team to feel anything but great for Deibold, who has never quit his day jobs of painting, construction, bike tech, you name it.

"There's definitely been times when I've doubted where I'm at, at the end of the season when you're broke and trying to figure out how you're going to pay rent," he said. "But I've never done it for the money. I've always done it for the love."

After the finish, Holland, Baumgartner and Jacob interlocked their arms and lifted Deibold onto a makeshift victory chariot.

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