Third time lucky for Katie Ormerod? The British snowboarder talks about her hopes for Beijing 2022

After just missing out on the two previous Olympic Winter Games – one required a mental reset, the other, an injury recovery – how does the Winter X Games bronze medallist navigate any concerns ahead of her third try?

By Jo Gunston
Picture by 2021 Getty Images

Two adjacent social media posts on 7 and 8 February 2018 tell the devastating story of snowboarder Katie Ormerod’s PyeongChang Olympic Winter Games.

The first shows the Brit in an Olympic bib, snowboard propped next to her, with the caption stating: “First training day and the course is awesome!!” The following day: “Yesterday sucked! After dreaming of competing at the Olympics for years, I finally got there and received the most bad luck I’ve ever had!”

Ormerod had fractured her heel – the day before the opening ceremony. Having already broken her wrist on the first training day and yet still set on competing that upcoming Sunday, this was just a devastating blow for the snowboarder who had won bronze during the big air test event in the Republic of Korea in November 2016 and was one of few medal hopefuls for the British team. The first and only Briton to have won an Olympic medal in a snow event at that point was Jenny Jones who claimed bronze in slopestyle at Sochi 2014.

To compound the frustration, Ormerod was within a hair’s breadth of competing at Sochi 2014 too, despite being just 16 years old.

At that age though, and with the world ahead of her, Ormerod bounced back. Following Sochi 2014, she used her in-built aerial awareness borne of early years as a gymnast, to achieve the world’s first backside double cork 1080 for women. She then placed third in big air at the test event, and followed that up in January 2017 with her first World Cup competition win, in the same discipline, in Moscow. She also claimed a bronze medal in the women's slopestyle at the Winter X Games in Aspen, Colorado that same month.

So she was one of the favourites heading into PyeongChang 2018 – where she was scheduled to compete in both slopestyle and big air – until the injury.

Missing the first Olympics compounded the second but two years and five operations later and Ormerod is back on track, despite the intervention of the COVID-19 pandemic impacting training.

The 2019/20 season was Ormerod's best to date, becoming the first Briton to win the overall World Cup slopestyle title, as well as five World Cup podiums. She's yet to officially qualify for Beijing 2022 – National Olympic Committees must nominate athletes by 16 January – but Ormerod is again looking good heading into Olympic season.

So how does the now 24-year-old manage her physical and mental wellbeing coming up to her third try at competing at an Olympic Winter Games, and the worries about something going wrong again?

Olympics.com spoke to Ormerod in November to find out.

What are your hopes for Beijing 2022?

“I would love to go to Beijing and land the best runs that I can do, and I truly believe right now that I can do that. So I'm really looking forward to having the opportunity.

“I think if you can do the best runs that you can do, you can't do any better than that, then you just have to hope that the result will come with that.

"Usually I go into the competition and I don't worry about the end result. I just think, OK, in this moment right now, I just have to do the best I can do, and then I do that, and then I check the result and I'm like, OK, that worked out."

You were very close to qualifying for Sochi 2014, so how did you handle that disappointment?

“Unfortunately Sochi didn't work out but I was still so young – I was only 15 when I was doing the qualifications for that – but I decided at that one to turn my frustration into something positive. So I decided to be the first girl in the world to do the backside cork 1080. And so that's how I handled that one."

And PyeongChang 2018?

"Going into PyeongChang was a totally different story. I was in the qualification process, I was either on all the podiums or at least the finals going into that. So I was in a really good position to go and get a medal… So when I got there, obviously I was so excited to be an Olympian and be there to compete but two days before the actual contest in training I broke my heel, which was obviously not what I planned on doing at all at the Olympics. So that was obviously like the worst, worst feeling ever.

"But I just had to remain positive and just accept the fact that it wasn't meant to be that year and just really focus on getting through my rehab and just focus on getting back to snowboarding and being able to even just walk again.

"And now I'm going into Beijing again in a really good position where I haven't officially qualified yet, but I've pretty much – we won't find out until January. So I'm just really excited now. I've had the best season of my career so far I won my first ever Crystal Globe and I'm just feeling really excited just to show the world what I can do, and hopefully this one will be my time.”

How did the snowboarding community help you during that devastating period?

“It's a really friendly atmosphere and that's so vital when you are recovering from injuries because you do have that support from your team-mates and other competitors. Most people do go through injuries regardless of what sport you do, so everyone understands what it's like and can really feel for you. And I think again, that really helps because you know that you're never alone. Everyone knows what you're going through.”

Does the friendliness turn competitive?

“Totally yeah. I mean, every competition that I do I am so focused on myself and I think you have to be in a competition. I feel like when I'm there and I'm in the training for it, and you're actually on the competition day, you're ready to drop in, you're so focused on what you're doing and you're visualising the runs in your head, that you don't even know what's going on around you. I can't speak for anyone else, obviously, but I know that that's what happens with me regardless of what competition is. So I imagine the Olympics will be the same that you have to just focus on your run and what you're going to do.

"On the actual comp day, I try not to watch what the other girls are doing so much because I'm like, all I can do is what I've trained, and do my best, so it doesn't matter what they do in terms of the actual competition. It just matters on what I do so I just try and just focus on myself and try and keep my mind active before dropping in.”

Do you think the skateboarding community is similar to that of snowboarding?

“Yeah, I think the skateboarding culture is very similar to snowboarding as a whole, and I was so excited to see skateboarding finally be part of the Olympics as well. And I think it did come across really well, like everyone I spoke to, really enjoyed watching it, and I'm hoping that will get more kids and adults as well into skateboarding. And that's like a gateway into action sports as well.”

Do you listen to music when you’re competing like some other riders do?

“No, I don't actually listen to music when I'm snowboarding. I listen to it before and like the night before our competition just to get my energy levels up and my vibes high.

“I listen to all sorts from musicals to rock and pop music to old school music 80s a bit of like punk like all sorts. My genre is very vast."

Musicals is different. Which are your favourite to get competition ready to?

"Phantom of the Opera, Wicked and Bat Out of Hell.”

Downtime is important for athletes – both physically and mentally – what do you do in yours?

“I am currently studying a (business) degree, so I try and fit that in, in my downtime. I'm in my second year of that. And when I am at home, I try and catch up with all my family and my friends. I go dog walking, I love walking and being outdoors. So just doing things to really chill because obviously the snowboard training is very intense – you're up in the mountain for hours at high altitude – so when I am resting, I really try and rest to recover and then be fresh for my next trip.”

You've bounced back from a number of setbacks – also including a broken back, a snapped anterior cruciate knee ligament, meniscus damage in both knees, a fractured shoulder and both arms – would you say you have learned resilience or is it within you?

“I feel like my resilience and my determination as a whole has come from just mainly within me. I feel like I've always been like that from being born because I've always had that competitive drive and I've always had the drive to succeed and better myself. No matter what I'm doing, and for as long as I can remember, that's always been my mindset.

"I think if you're passionate about something as well, if you love what you do, then you're not going to let anything stop you or get in your way. And I think that's a big part of me as well. I love what I do, so if I do have a setback, I just do everything I can to get back, for me, not for anyone else, and I think that's a huge part of it.”

How would you describe your story so far?

"I would like to say inspiring. I've shown a lot of determination and resilience because I have had a few setbacks along the way, like big setbacks, but I never let anything stop me. I'm so passionate about what I do. I love snowboarding and I want to keep getting better and challenging myself.

"In Sochi, when I didn't qualify, I turned that into doing a world's first and then I came back, qualified for PyeongChang, got injured there, but then came back and had the most successful season of my career and winning Britain's first crystal globe and now going into Beijing hopefully that will all be fine.

"But yeah, I think you have to be so resilient in sport, and I think my story shows resilience and determination and coming back – regardless of obstacles and setbacks – coming back stronger every single time.”

Beijing 2022 starts 4 February 2022 with the snowboard events starting the next day, 5 December.

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