Golds for Great Britain and USA as halfpipe comes to a close

Picture by Jon Buckle YIS/IOC

Pop singer Taylor Swift makes for an unlikely influence during a Winter Youth Olympic Games, even on Valentine’s Day. But as Great Britain’s Madison Rowlands embarked on her gold medal-winning run in the ladies’ ski halfpipe competition, it was Swift’s hit single “Style” that made for an inspiring soundtrack.

“I was listening to my music on the mountain, trying not to freak out when my headphones fell out,” said Rowlands of an 88.60 score that saw her finish ahead of Paula Cooper of the USA and Austria’s Lara Wolf. “It was just pumping. That was the best run I’ve ever done,” she said.

For Rowlands, Youth Olympic gold marks a personal high in a life spent on skis. Introduced to the sport at the age of two by her parents during a family holiday to Les Deux Alpes in France, she hasn’t looked back since. “I can’t remember a time when I didn’t ski,” she said.

Her daredevil acrobatics began when she was nine years old. Whenever her older brother, Mike, braved a resort’s terrain park, she would follow him. “He was trying stuff out and I was copying him,” she said.

Paula Cooper (USA, left), Great Britain's Madison Rowlands and Lara Wolf, of Austria, collect their medals at the Oslo Vinterpark Halfpipe.

By the time Rowlands was old enough to enter serious competitions, her mum was unable to watch: the experience of seeing her daughter attempt Safety Grabs was simply too nerve-wracking.

“At first she’d get blisters on her lips, watching me in the cold,” said Rowlands. “Now she’s stopped coming altogether. She can’t watch me. She watches the live scoring at home on the laptop instead.”

Having already cut her teeth in World Cup events and now the YOG, Rowlands has her sights firmly set on the Pyeongchang 2018 Olympic Winter Games in the Republic of Korea. Her victory in the Oslo Vinterpark Halfpipe is one step closer to reaching those targets.

“I am so stoked,” she said of her success. “I honestly couldn’t be happier. When I called home, my family were all crying.”

Tunes – Taylor Swift or otherwise – do not play a part in the preparation of the USA’s men’s gold medallist Birk Irving. “I’m not a big music guy,” he said. “I like to focus on my run and the outcome.”

It obviously works. Irving won the men’s ski halfpipe competition ahead of New Zealand rider Finn Bilous (silver) and Norway’s Trym Sunde Andreassen (bronze), though his success wasn’t entirely unexpected: he landed his first 360 when he was five years old.

“I’ve been raised out of a ski area, and all my family are skiers, so I was born with it I guess. The highlight of my winning run? I did a down the pipe, double flat nine.

“I have a fractured fibula, so I wasn’t able to train this week. There was a little bit of pain, but I was OK once the adrenaline kicked in.”

And in some style, too.


Matt Allen is a reporter for the Lillehammer Youth Information Service ‘YIS’. Author of the international bestselling Usain Bolt autobiography Faster Than Lightning, Matt is a sports and music journalist whose articles have appeared in publications such as Total Sport, Esquire, Men’s Health, GQ and FourFourTwo.