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Britain's first snow sport Winter Olympic medallist?

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Anna Thompson | 16:29 UK time, Saturday, 17 April 2010

He is only 16 but Jamie Nicholls already lives an envious lifestyle as he travels around the ski resorts of Europe pursuing his sporting dream.

The teenager from Yorshire is not a seasonaire boarder bum, though. He is in fact regarded as one of Britain's best snowboarders.

Nicholls underlined his ability at the recent British Freeski and Snowboarding Championships (known as the Brits) where he won the slopestyle and half-pipe titles and finished second in the big air.

He is also an exciting prospect on the world stage and is aiming to challenge the top order with some claiming his talent is such that in four years' time he could become Britain's first snow sport Winter Olympic medallist.

Jamie Nicholls in action in the half-pipe at the Brits in LaaxJamie Nicholls on his way to half-pipe glory at the Brits in Laax, Switzerland

It may come as a surprise to some of you to know that Britain has only ever won Winter Olympic medals in "ice" events - curling, figure skating, bobsleigh, skeleton etc - although slalom skier Alain Baxter would have become the first "snow" medallist in 2002 had he not been controversially stripped of his bronze medal for failing a drugs test.

Nicholls is among a new breed of freestyle skiers and boarders - which also include Sam Cullum, Nate Kearn, Murray Buchan and Katie and Mollie Summerhayes - whose talents are challenging the traditional alpine nations.

Nicholls' preferred event, slopestyle, is not yet in the Olympics but very influential people including Marcel Looze, snowboard director of the International Ski Federation, are pushing to get it included in the 2014 Games in Sochi, Russia.

"It would be great if slopestyle was in the Olympics and it would be a dream come true to represent Britain," Nicholls told me.

And not only is Nicholls excited about the possibility, it would be good news for Britain as this non-alpine nation currently boasts a double X Games gold medallist in slopestyle - Bristol's Jenny Jones - who also won the inaugural European X Games title this year too.

She will be 33 by the time the next Games come around but would love to compete if still at the top of her game and injury-free.

Nicholls said: "What Jenny has achieved is brilliant and really good for British snowboarding and shows we can compete with the best."

Ben Kilner, 21, competed in half-pipe in the 2010 Games in Vancouver and finished a creditable 12th. He also enjoys slopestyle competitions and would definitely double-up given the chance. He wasn't able to compete at this year's Brits after injuring his knee ligaments at the last World Cup half-pipe of the season but some of his magic rubbed off on Nicholls - who was wearing Kilner's Team GB coat.

So why is Britain such a hotbed of talent in freestyle skiing and snowboarding?

Nicholls believes this is because of the amount of indoor snow zones and dry slopes which have sprung up around the country, particularly in the last decade.

These enable youngsters to learn to ride rails and kickers, which are used in slopestyle events, and they then transfer these skills learned to the bigger snowparks when they get to ski resorts.

Nicholls himself started at Halifax Ski Centre when he was six, eventually graduating to the snow and he is now among the world elite with a number of high-profile sponsors. That helps pay for him to travel around Europe and beyond, entering events and filming those arty and stylish snowboard films that grace many a ski resort bar.

Nicholls has fantastic potential but he and others rely on funding to reach the top of their games and compete with the world's best.

Winter sports funding is at a crossroads at the moment after the financial crisis which led to the demise of the governing body, SnowsportGB, on what was possibly the worst timing in the world - the eve of the 2010 Winter Olympics.

However, out of what was an awful situation for the athletes and coaches alike, British Ski and Snowboarding has now been set-up, with former Llanelli Scarlets rugby club chief executive Dave Edwards at the helm.

He was out at the Brits, along with British Olympic Association chairman Lord Colin Moynihan to sample the freestyle competition at first hand.

Edwards told me: "I have been very impressed by what I have seen. We have some really promising talent who have the potential to be in medal positions."

He says this can be achieved by investing up to £1.5m a year into British Ski and Snowboarding, which will take in alpine, freestyle and cross-country skiing as well as snowboarding.

UK Sport pumped £620,000 into skiing and snowboarding for the four-year cycle between Turin and Vancouver, and will make an announcement in the coming months over the funding levels up to the Sochi Games.

But Lord Moynihan wants more investment claiming it is "clearly wrong" summer sports will receive £400m up to London 2012 whereas winter sports received £6.4m ahead of the 2010 Games.

He said at the Brits: "I am here to support all the athletes and make sure that British skiing and snowboarding, the BSS, as the new governing body in the UK, puts the athletes first on the road to Sochi 2014."

And Edwards believes further funding would be created by forging better commercial links, which he claimed have been under-exploited in the past. He is confident the level of investment needed is certainly achievable.

The board, which has been expanded to 12 and includes athletes Zoe Gillings (snowboard cross) and Ed Drake (alpine skiing) aims to give all disciplines equal footing (in the past there had been rumblings alpine skiing was given far too much precedence to the detriment of others) and the athletes a voice.

So after a torrid 12 months for Britain's top skiers and boarders, it looks as though the future is bright on both the funding and talent fronts.

Comments

  • 1. At 07:40am on 18 Apr 2010, Steve Nash wrote:

    It's criminal than Jenny Jones hasn't got the respect in the UK she deserves. Outside the snowboarding community, no-one knows who she is, yet she has been one of our most successful athletes in the last year, especially in a sport and an arena that Brits haven't exactly got a great history in.

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  • 2. At 5:36pm on 18 Apr 2010, Mark Wilson wrote:

    I wouldn't get to carried away. We still have a very long way to go before any British male riders get anywhere near the likes of Shaun White, Nicolas Muller or Travis Rice. How many video / magazine parts are British riders getting? This is the true gauge of how succesful and respected someone is in the Snowboard world and not the Olympics that the vast majority of riders do not consider enterring.

    Jenny Jones is clearly the exception to this and is one of the womens elite. She deserves more respect for what she has achieved. How can she get this? Maybe a British Broadcasting Corporation might want to do a programme on her...

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  • 3. At 10:57pm on 21 Apr 2010, Spacey wrote:

    a campaign has been launched on FaceBook aimed at thrying to get Jenny Jones into the list of nominees for the BBC Sports Personality of the year award 2010.
    http://www.facebook.com/?ref=logo#!/pages/Jenny-Jones-for-BBC-Sports-Personality-of-the-Year-2010/118740774805143?ref=ts

    Join the campaign, and spread the word. She is the best snow sports athlete we have presently and deserves recognition in this country. On top of that, raising awareness of snow sports in turn may help with future funding for the likes of Ben Kilner etc

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  • 4. At 08:14am on 25 Jun 2010, Tim Barnes wrote:

    Mark is right, in a way - UK snowboarders tend to not get the same level of recognition as their US counterparts. Maybe it's because places to snowboard are more easily accessible in America (even buying snowboards here are more expensive than in dollars as the site shows). It is a massive shame though, Jenny Jones is a phenomenal snowboarder and while she's gaining popularity, she might not be gaining it as quickly as she really deserves.

    It'd be amazing to see Jamie at the next winter olympics - good luck to him.

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  • 5. At 2:24pm on 27 Jun 2010, snowkaz wrote:

    Last year I was volunteering at the NZ Winter Games in August and I contacted various sports editors in the UK to ask whether anyone was covering the games and they said No because it wasn't the right time of year. Our UK athletes, particularly female snowboarders and the adaptive skiers were doing amazingly - it was an international event comparable to the size of the Olympics, and there was no support. We Brits were proud of our athletes competing in these games against countries who have snow all year round, but there was no support from the UK media. I think no matter what time of year it is we should support those who do well. And thats reflective in what you said about Jenny - she's amazing and only the snowsports world know her - where was she in the queen's sporting hero knighthoods?? Just head down to any snow centre on a Fri/Sat night and you'll see the talent being layed down - from the groms as much as the pros - and the size of the UK scene.

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  • 6. At 10:18am on 30 Nov 2010, matty wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

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