When Mathilde Gremaud became the youngest medallist in Olympic freestyle skiing history, at 18 years and 9 days, by claiming slopestyle silver at PyeongChang 2018, she was fulfilling a destiny which pretty much stretches back to her birth.
For Gremaud, skiing came as naturally as walking. Her father was a competitive Alpine skier and wasted no time introducing his daughter to the sport. Gremaud junior learned to ski at just two years old and, from an early age, it was always freestyle which captivated her the most. In interviews she recalls spending hours in her parents’ garden growing up, rehearsing the kinds of tricks and jumps she would later perform in the mountains.
International success came quickly. Her sparkling talent was spotted early by the Swiss national team selectors and, at 16 and while still combining skiing with school, she made her first World Cup podium. But it was the Youth Olympic Games (YOG) in Lillehammer – where she finished sixth in the slopestyle – earlier that year which she now regards as transformative in her ambition to become the best athlete she could be.
“It was my first Olympic experience,” she remembers. “I think I was trying to do way more than what I could actually do. I knew I could have done better if I had done a more simple run but actually landed it clean. I just learned as an athlete it’s important to ski with your brain and be a little bit strategic. The YOG experience was like an awakening.”
Gremaud realised that, to reach the very top in her sport, she needed to become both physically stronger and a smarter competitor. By the time she reached PyeongChang two years later, she was ready to take on the best in the world. “I got up to the start, I was looking at the snow park, and that’s definitely a moment when I thought of the Youth Olympic Games,” she recalls. “And I was like, this is big, this is perfect. When I knew that I had a medal no matter what, I just started crying and was super emotional.”
She has not looked back. In 2019, she won four World Cups – three in big air and one in slopestyle. But as well as chasing medals, her drive has been to push the limits of the sport. Last September, she took female freeskiing to a new level, becoming the first woman to land a switch double cork 1440 – a breathtaking trick which involves four spins and two flips – and last month, she performed it in competition for the first time on the way to winning big air X Games gold. “As soon as I learned it, the next goal was to put it [into practice] in a competition,” she says. “I’m really happy to be the first one [to do this] and make history, but also I don’t really think about it.”
Gremaud will almost certainly be among the leading contenders for gold at Beijing 2022, but she is not getting ahead of herself. Now 20, her own precocious success at a young age reminds her that there are always new talents arriving in the sport, ready to make their own history.
“Since in this sport you can be really good, really young, I’m pretty sure someone is going to beat me,” she says. “I think about Beijing… just thinking that I’m so excited to be at an Olympic snow park again because they’re super sick and big. I’m just going to go there and think about what trick I want to do, and what run I want to be able to land, and just have fun. When you have that mindset, you can’t really go wrong.”