Since competing at the Winter Youth Olympic Games (YOG) Lillehammer 2016, Hailey Langland has established herself as one of the leading snowboarders in the world, winning medals in both big air and slopestyle at the X Games.
At the age of just 17, she headed to the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 as one of the leading challengers for the podium, but was disappointed to finish sixth in slopestyle and 14th in big air.
Now, having missed January’s X Games in Aspen (USA) after dislocating her elbow in a practice run, the 20-year-old has her eyes firmly set on Olympic redemption in Beijing next year.
With less than a year to go to Beijing 2022, how much are you looking forward to the Games?
“I'm super, super excited for Beijing. I've actually never been to China before: even though there have been so many opportunities to compete in contests there, I haven't made it to one of those events yet. It would just be unreal for me to go to China for my first time and it’ll be the Olympics, so I'm really looking forward to it. Obviously, the last time I went to the Olympics, I didn't do as well as I wanted to, and so I'm definitely looking at Beijing to get some redemption.”
How do you reflect on those experiences in PyeongChang?
“I was so young when I first went to the Olympics. I was only 17, so it was a crazy experience for me. I didn't really realise the full capacity of what was going on until after the event, and even now, three years later, I'm just like, ‘I'm so lucky that I was able to go, and I had a great time.’ The results were not what I wanted, but I was still so happy to even be there and be a part of the US team. It was such a cool experience and I'm definitely looking forward to hopefully going again.”
Just two years earlier, you were competing in the Winter YOG Lillehammer 2016. What are your memories of that event?
“My favourite memories were being able to meet people from different countries. It's so funny – I actually met Rene Rinnekangas and Henna Ikola there and, oh my gosh, they were so fun to hang out with. And I was meeting people from New Zealand, all over the world – it was so cool. We were all going to watch the other sports together and it was such a blast. It was an amazing experience.”
Do you feel that your experiences in Lillehammer helped prepare you for PyeongChang?
“Absolutely. When I showed up in PyeongChang, I knew the steps I needed to go through and, most importantly, I wasn't as stressed as I thought I would be, which was really awesome. Having that experience beforehand – like being in the Athletes’ Village, which is something totally different to what we usually do – was really good practice heading in.”
What are your goals for Beijing 2022?
“My goal for Beijing, if I do qualify, is to just take what I've learned over the past two times, in Lillehammer and in PyeongChang, and really just try and focus on where my weaknesses were. I really want to try and do my best, for real this time, but I also want to keep it really lax, because I think I was a little stressed out the last time around, and it messed with my head a lot.
I'm just looking forward to seeing the progression of women's snowboarding at this point. It's unbelievable to be a part of that.Hailey Langland
How disappointing was it to miss the X Games earlier this year due to your elbow injury?
“It was pretty heart-breaking honestly, because I had just pulled together my run on the run before and I was so excited. There were only five minutes left to practise and I was at the top, saying to myself, ‘Should I do another practice run? Should I just hang out because I finally got it?’ And I psyched myself out and totally went for another practice run. I was just so excited because I knew that my run was really good, and I wasn't paying attention to what I was doing at all. And unfortunately, off the very last feature, I dislocated my elbow and that took me out of the contest, which is such a big bummer because had I just waited, I would have been able to compete, which would have been so fun because that course was perfect. But I believe everything happens for a reason, and maybe I needed to listen to my body, and I needed some rest; but I'm definitely looking forward to the next contest in March.”
What is your plan for the rest of the season?
“Right now, I'm at three weeks of healing on my elbow, and my plan is to get as well as I can before March. That's when we have our first few contests that dictate who gets the spots on the US Olympic team; so I'm hoping to get better by then and I want to try and secure a solid spot. The last time I qualified for the Olympics, I was third, which is great, but it's also the spot right above the coach's discretion – I want to come in definitely earning my spot and not just squeaking by like I did last time.”
And if you do manage to qualify, what will you most look forward to in Beijing?
“I'm definitely looking forward to the Opening Ceremony. PyeongChang was super cool, so that's obviously going to be something hard to top. I’m also just looking forward to experiencing the culture and the food. I'm so excited to completely dive into another country and find out what their customs are; that's the cool part, dabbling and being able to indulge yourself in so many different situations. I'd also love to be able to prove to everyone my skills, and I definitely want to showcase the best riding that I have. It's an important event, but making the memories and being able to go is just as good as winning.”