Snowboarder Scotty Lago reflects on photo that ended his Olympic trip

  • New Hampshire’s Scotty Lago gets air during the Men’s Snowboard Slopestyle during Winter X Games 13 at Buttermilk Ski Area near Aspen, Colo., in 2009. Lago won the bronze medal at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. AP file

  • Snowboarder Scotty Lago from the United States jumps during the Nokia Air Style competition in Innsbruck, Austria, on Saturday, Feb. 2. 2008. (AP Photo/Kerstin Joensson) KERSTIN JOENSSON—AP

  • Kazuhiro Kokubo, right, of Japan, is congratulated by Scotty Lago after his winning run at the U.S. Open snowboard championships in Stratton, Vt., Saturday, March 20, 2010. (AP Photo/Toby Talbot) Toby Talbot—AP

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    In this May 8, 2011 photo, members of the Frends crew, from left, Danny Davis, Luke Mitrani, Scotty Lago and Jack Mitrani pass the time before a day of filming the snowboarding documentary "The Art of Flight" at Snowmass ski area in Colorado. The film will premiere on Sept. 7 in New York. (AP Photo/Thomas Peipert) Thomas Peipert—AP

  • United States Olympic Winter Games Snowboarder Scotty Lago poses for a portrait at the 2013 Team USA Media Summit on Monday, October 2, 2013 in Park City, UT. (AP Photo/Carlo Allegri) Carlo Allegri—AP

  • Olympic snowboarder Scotty Lago poses for a portrait at the 2013 Team USA Media Summit in Park City, Utah. AP file

  • United States Olympic Winter Games Snowboarder Scotty Lago poses for a portrait at the 2013 Team USA Media Summit on Monday, October 2, 2013 in Park City, UT. (AP Photo/Carlo Allegri) Carlo Allegri—AP

Monitor staff
Published: 2/8/2018 11:49:38 PM

We’ll get to his Olympic bronze medal in snowboarding, earned at the Winter Games eight years ago in Vancouver.

Be patient.

And we’ll get to his savvy business instincts, remarkable considering he never got past the eighth grade, and his marriage to Miss New Hampshire, and his expert bow hunting, and his summer trips to New Zealand, and all the rest about a Seabrook athlete who competes in a world reserved for the really cool.

But first, the photo. There’s so much in that photo, so many details that reveal so much: who we are, what we like, how a fraction of a second can change a life, influence society’s perceptions, you name it.

The photo shows a woman, out partying, perhaps kneeling, with her mouth on or near Lago’s medal in 2010. That’s fine, of course, but a problem surfaced when TMZ got its hands on the picture and ran it.

The ribbon, you see, is wrapped around Lago’s waist, which means the medal itself is down around the area of, well, you know.

And that is what the media ran with, what people were talking about, what came to define Lago, as unfair as that is.

“The emotion that might arise now is humor,” Lago, who now lives in South Hampton, told me. “It’s been so long that the only thing I can do is look back and laugh.”

The stuffed shirts at the image-conscious U.S. Olympic Committee, however, saw nothing funny. They pressured Lago to leave the Olympic Village, he said.

Others, of course, did indeed laugh, including Jimmy Kimmel, who brought Lago onto his show and gave him a private closing ceremony, right there on the Hollywood stage.

Elsewhere, the New York Times sent a reporter to Seabrook to write about Lago, who became a household name, or at least a much-Googled photo.

Today, Lago, 30, sells Lago snowboards. His bread and butter comes from co-ownership of a high-flying traveling show called Big Air, featuring Olympic and X Games snowboarders and skiers, fireworks, colorful flashing lights and 3-D projection.

Lago has sound sponsorship from Sam Adams and gets a paycheck for the four-month winter tour. He called me back from Pennsylvania, more than happy to talk all things Lago, including the unique position he found himself in 2010.

His night on the town in Vancouver, a day after he’d taken third in the halfpipe (Shaun White won the gold), fit nicely within the party landscape of his sport. Maybe that’s why Lago could build a business empire and receive applause in certain corners.

Could a men’s figure skater or hockey player have gotten away with this?

Perhaps. And just how much success can be attributed to the wild snowboarder image is hard to say.

“As far as the photo helping me in any way, I don’t know,” Lago told me. “What I can say is I didn’t gain or lose any sponsors due to the photo coming out. But the ones I might not have gotten because of the photo is a mystery.”

What’s not a mystery is that Lago’s life is full of extraordinary tidbits. Imagine asking your parents if you could drop out of school – in this case Lago, home-schooled, was one credit short of completing eighth grade – to pursue a snowboarding career.

Most parents, I presume, would say, “No way, dude.”

Not Scotty’s father, Mike Lago.

“I wasn’t quite sure,” Mike told me by phone from his home in Seabrook. “Certainly he was good enough to compete professionally, and not too many kids get that opportunity, and that is the route we chose. It wasn’t easy, and I had sleepless nights trying to decide what to do.”

What you have to do when making this sort of commitment is funnel money and time into a dream, for travel, gear, lodging.

Mike did paving and excavation. He had an ice cream business and the hay farm. He worked in property and building maintenance. His father lent support.

“We are not wealthy,” Mike told me. “We stayed in the cheapest motels we could find.”

It paid off, with gold and silver medals on the World Cup circuit and in the X Games, and a berth on the 2010 U.S. Olympic Team.

Before the games, Scotty had failed in numerous attempts to nail his routine, unable to string together the series of twists and turns and flips needed to land on the podium.

Then, on the biggest stage in the world, after a teammate says, “Yeah, Scotty, ready for you, man. Do this,” and a pair of fist pumps, everything clicked, with Lago punching the air with his right fist upon completion and the public-address announcer telling thousands that the Seabrook grade school back home had had a half-day so they could watch the hometown hero.

Strangely, Lago said he had inner peace looking down, moments before he dropped into the pipe.

“A weird confidence,” he said. “I knew my capabilities, and I was not nervous. I did a lot of work with a sports psychologist and it helped a bunch. It really unfolds and happens pretty naturally. I had prepared.”

But not for what lay ahead. Lago hugged his parents after the event, gave interviews for hours, then went out to party the next night. His life soon changed forever.

He said he’d never met the girl. He said he didn’t want to go into detail, that the “photo explained it all.”

The photo showed the girl getting personal. It showed Lago, his face scruffy, with a big smile. It showed his six-pack abs.

And, once TMZ showed the picture, the media went nuts and the public ate it up. Lago said the USOC already had a plane ticket home for Lago, before he even knew what hit him.

“I had a chance to stay if I wanted to go through a local hearing there,” Lago told me. “That was too much of a pain in the ass, and I wanted to get out of the limelight a little, so I felt it would be best to just go home.”

He was greeted with a hero’s welcome, signs on buildings and bridges, his antics doing nothing to tarnish his reputation and instead, perhaps, adding to it, to the bad-boy image attached to a snowboarder.

Lago blended two schools of thought, starting with contrition.

“I don’t want to say that it helped me, because that sounds bad, and it’s not a good look for myself,” he told me. “I did not want to embarrass my family. I didn’t think it was a big deal. That being said, I’m still representing the U.S. and I’m representing grandmothers, and you have to consider things like that.”

But when pressed if the photo might have helped his image due to snowboarding stereotypes, Lago said, “It did not hurt me. I was on the Jimmy Kimmel show.”

Then he paused and said, “I’ll tell you what and leave it like this: The snowboard community didn’t give a s.”

On Jimmy Kimmel Live, the host asked to see Lago’s six-pack, wondering if it in fact was an “eight pack.”

Kimmel told Lago he didn’t think the picture was a big deal, adding, “There’s not even a bong in your hand,” a reference to a prior photo released showing Olympic swimming star Michael Phelps apparently smoking weed.

Then cast member Guillermo Rodriguez came out with a tiny Olympic flame, then staff members walked on stage, in single file, wearing colorful hats, then Dudley Do-Right walking on long stilts and SpongeBob SquarePants joined the fun.

“We want to give you your very own closing ceremonies,” Kimmel told Lago.

“A fun experience,” Lago called it.

Since then, Lago has married the aptly named Bridget Brunet, Miss New Hampshire of 2014. He tours with Big Air in the winter and comes home to hunt deer and turkey with his bow. He’s going heli boarding soon in Wyoming. He snowboards in New Zealand in late summer, which is winter down there, filming content for his social media. He recently shot a commercial for Jeep.

And, of course, he’ll be glued to the TV starting this weekend, when the snowboard competition starts. He’s friends with U.S. Olympic team members and others from around the world.

He hopes they’ll be “killing it and crushing it” in South Korea.

“Unfortunately, we’re going to be super-busy with our show,” Lago said, “so we’ll be running back and forth to watch.”

His career, meanwhile, is going great.

Picture perfect, really.

Ray Duckler bio photo

Ray Duckler, our intrepid columnist, focuses on the Suncook Valley. He floats from topic to topic, searching for the humor or sadness or humanity in each subject. A native New Yorker, he loves the Yankees and Giants. The Red Sox and Patriots? Not so much.

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