Sweden’s Jennie-Lee Burmansson has crammed an awful lot into her 17 years. Born and raised in the Salen ski resort, Burmansson has already reached an Olympic final, won a season-long International Ski Federation World Cup crystal globe, and grabbed gold at the X Games. However, as she prepares to compete at her first Youth Olympic Games (YOG), the teenager feels her biggest success story has come during time away from the slopes.
“It was pretty tough being injured, not being able to ski for a whole year,” said Burmansson, who tore her anterior cruciate ligament in competition in New Zealand in September 2018. “It was a new learning experience. I had to spend a lot of time on my body and my mind. I learned so much even though I wasn’t skiing. I feel so much stronger now.
“The thing that kept me going was the thought of being able to do new tricks when I got back, especially because I am much stronger.”
Such injuries are always a possibility when you spend half your life upside down while hurtling down snow-packed slopes, but having now faced that reality head-on, Burmansson feels she is all the better for it.
“I am just getting back on skis now and that feels great,” she said. “I was a bit slippery on my first run back but after a couple I had it. It was like being reborn.
“I am a lot more cautious in what I do, for sure. I am not just doing things super quick – I think about what I am doing now before I do it. But there is no fear.”
That final point is crucial in a sport involving total commitment from the moment the skiers leave the start line. Burmansson has never lacked for that, from the moment her parents first put her on skis at two years old. Success came quickly for the prodigy and, by the end of the 2017/18 season, she was national champion in both slopestyle and big air, and an X Games big air gold medallist.
To listen to her describe freestyle skiing is to get a real understanding of what it is that drives these extraordinary athletes to take on challenges that seem impossible to the uninitiated.
“It’s freedom,” Burmansson explained. “You just express yourself and do what you want to do. You are skiing with your buddies and it’s super fun and then on the competitive side you can still do pretty much whatever you want to do.
The competitive fire clearly burns brightly in Burmansson and it was that will to be the best she can which drove her to the standout sporting experience of her life to date.
“I remember my run-in qualification so clearly, the finish area, the crowds, the other competitors. It was a super cool feeling,” she said of competing at the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games as a 15-year-old school kid. “It was a lot different from any other competition. Having so many people from so many other sports was super cool, and the food hall was cool, so much to try.
“I am so looking forward to doing the whole Olympic thing again.”
Burmansson finished eighth in slopestyle in PyeongChang, but such high-profile results do not guarantee anything at the YOG. Not with the likes of long-time rival Kelly Sildaru of Estonia lurking in Lausanne.
“I know her pretty well, it’s part of the excitement, part of the whole thing to meet all my competitors again,” Burmansson said of Sildaru, who won the first of her three X Games gold medals aged just 13 and was a favourite for slopestyle gold at the last Olympic Games before suffering her own untimely injury.
The duo’s duels on the slopes of the Villars Winter Park and the Leysin halfpipe are not to be missed. Burmansson has a couple of pre-Christmas national events to polish her competitive instincts but Lausanne 2020 will be the first time in more than 15 months that she will get to feel the thrill of a major stage.
“I am definitely a bit more nervous about it than usual,” Burmansson said. “I am trying to get all my big tricks back before then and some new ones. I hope I can do it all in time.”