Olympics-'Small gains' - how Ormerod relearned walking before jumping


FILE PHOTO: Mar 14, 2021; Aspen, Colorado, USA; Katie Ormerod of Britain during Snowboard Big Air qualifying in the 2021 FIS Aspen Snowboard & Freeski World Championships. Mandatory Credit: Michael Madrid-USA TODAY Sports

LEEDS, England (Reuters) - Many athletes have overcome a great deal to fulfill their Olympic dreams but British snowboarder Katie Ormerod had to go back to the very beginning to get herself in the best possible shape for next month's Beijing Winter Games.

Two days before the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics Ormerod was in prime condition and had all her jumps and tricks rehearsed to a tee to be ready to go for gold only for disaster to strike - an accident that reshaped the next two years of her life.

The Yorkshire rider came off a rail too soon on a practice run and split her heel bone in half, with medics taking two hours to cut her out of her boot. Her Olympic dream was over, with more serious repercussions causing even more worry.

"It was a good four months before I could actually walk again," Ormerod, 24, told Reuters in an interview. "I was in a wheelchair and on crutches for a very long time.

"Going into my first Olympics in Pyeongchang, I was so excited. It was a dream come true and to miss out in the way I did definitely wasn't what anyone could have expected.

"I had to work extremely hard to get back from that - seven operations, a full year of rehab, and 18 months before actually getting back into competition. I just had to be so resilient, even to be able to walk again after an injury like that."

Just being able to return to the snow after such a painful injury is no easy task, but Ormerod came back with a bang.

In 2020, she became the first Briton to win a slopestyle World Cup title and a much-coveted snowboarding Crystal Globe – a prestigious International Ski Federation award for the athlete who earns the most points during the season.

Such success made the previous two years of hell all the more worthwhile.

"I knew that every day in the gym was like a day closer to getting back on my snowboard," she added. "That was what was keeping me motivated.

"I made sure not to go back on my board until I was stronger than before. And that really worked out for me. I ended up having the best season of my career.

"It is important to celebrate all the little gains I made. Every day I'd give myself something to be excited about - just being able to do one more rep in the gym or having a successful physio session. Little things like that really kept me going."

HUMBLE BEGINNINGS

While her rivals in slopestyle and big air - the two disciplines she will compete in next month - grew up in the mountains of North America or Japan, Yorkshire-born Ormerod learned to snowboard on a very different surface.

"It's definitely harder to learn on dry slopes - it hurts a lot more," she said. "Essentially, you're riding like a plastic carpet so it doesn't really compare to the real thing. But that's all I had access to."

In a country with an average altitude of 75 metres above sea level, the dry ski slope of Halifax just had to do.

Ormerod does not think her upbringing in England held her back though. She still lives in Yorkshire but does all her training abroad.

Next stop is Beijing, where a first British snowboard gold medal is a real possibility. Having overcome what she has to be there, a determined Ormerod is more than ready to live out her dream at last.

"After everything that has happened, I'm going in with the mindset like with any other World Cup event, to just go there and not think too much about the overall result," she added.

"I've got new tricks that I didn't have four years ago, and my riding overall feels really strong. I'm going in there in a really good position.

"I'm just excited to get out there at the Olympics. It has been a long time coming."

(Reporting by Peter Hall; Editing by Ken Ferris)

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