Sochi 2014: Zoe Gillings Interview

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Whitelines chatting to Zoe in Sochi. Photo: Colin Holden

How’s the course looking?
Well I’ve only done testing on it so far. They take three guys and a few girls who ride down the course just to check it’s OK and there’s enough speed for the jumps and stuff.

How do you get picked to be one of those?
You basically volunteer to be a guinea pig. They want three girls and there were actually only three of us who volunteered! It’s a bit of a risk because you’re going down a new course – you’re going off jumps and you’re not sure if there’s going to be enough speed to make the landing, or too much speed or whatever. So it’s a risk but it gives you a bit of extra training on the course, which is why I decided to do it.

How’s it running?
It’s good. They don’t let you spend too much time on it in testing, cos they don’t want to give you an unfair advantage, but yeah it’s good.

Is it big? Because what everyone said about the slopestyle was it was big…
It is pretty big, but it’s also pretty fast and it’s icy! This morning… it’s meant to be snowboardercross, but it was iceboardercross. I think what happened is it melted yesterday and it froze overnight. By this afternoon it probably would have been slushy again, so it’s probably an hour where it’s great, but yeah, it; it’s gonna be fast, it’s gonna be big. But that means the gutsy girls do quite well and it suits me to be honest. I’m not so good at the ‘get everything perfect technique-wise’ game, I’m better at the ‘just go for it and see what happens’ approach. So although it is quite scary, it suits me quite well, and a few of the other girls too.

Who are the favourites?
Well Lindsey Jacobellis is in there, along with Domonique Maltaise. And Eva Samkova, she’s a Czech girl who’s reasonably new on the scene. Maelle Ricker is well known because she won in Vancouver. She’s had a difficult season but she’s a contender.

How are your times looking this season, are you looking to better your 8th place finish? [the highest Zoe has achieved in previous winter Olympics]
Yeah I’d love to better my eighth, to go out and get a medal like Jenny, that would obviously be amazing. But who knows what’s going to happen. You’ve got six people in every race now.

It’s gonna be fast, it’s gonna be big. But that means the gutsy girls do quite well and it suits me to be honest.

Yeah when did that happen, cos it used to just be four right?
Well since the last Olympics they’ve been trialling it, and I guess about 30% of the World Cup races now have 6 people starting in the final. And it’s going to be the same here.

Does six people make it harder?
It’s different. They’ve made the courses wider to accommodate more people… I guess it’s just exaggerated. If it was unpredictable before, it’s more unpredictable. IF it was dangerous before, it’s more dangerous. If there were crashes before, there’s more crashes. IF it was good on TV, it’s even better on TV.

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Zoe Gillings in action at a world cup race.

In boardercross it strikes me that even if you don’t cock up, someone else can cock up and end your race.
I had that in Lake Louise actually earlier this season. I was looking to make a pass on the inside, and she fell and I went down with her. There was nothing I could do, she was about a foot in front of me.

It must work in your favour sometimes though?
Yeah, definitely. Although I’m fairly sureIy have more bad luck than I do good…

Really?
Yeah actually. If I can get through an Olympics without that happening I’ll be happy.

The wax we use is called Cera F. You put on as the last thing, and it lasts for about 30 seconds or so. Gram for gram, it costs more than gold dust.

That’s never happened?
Never! It’s frustrating, but that’s just what happens.

You’re one of the fastest snowboarders on the planet, who makes your boards?
A company called Oxess. They make some giant slalom boards. But basically you ask for what you want and they make it. They make Custom boards. If you’ve got 100 boardercross riders at the top level, virtually all of them will be on Oxess, Kessler or Apex. They’re quite small companies that just make very specific high end boards.

What kind of setup do you ride?
A stiff, long, thin board. That’s the fastest. With a fairly shallow sidecut. My sidecut radius is about 14 metres. But then you have a fairly narrow waist so you can go from edge to edge pretty quickly. And then I have K2 boots that are fairly stiff, with a double boa system so I can tighten them up and make them proprerly supportive. My bindings are… actually nothing too special about the bindings. Just quite stiff and supportive.

Is the construction of your board very different?
Yeah, some of these companies make titanium cores, so really stiff and light. It’s definitely kind of weird when you turn up to a World Cup event and there’s almost no board manufacturers that the ordinary public would recognise.

Oxess Snowboards
Oxess Snowboards website. They’re all about the eurocarve.

Do you use super expensive wax as well?
Yeah, this stuff called Swix. That’s the company and it’s not all stupidly expensive, but they’ll make a small block which costs 15 euros, or then a tub which costs 100 euros. There’s this powder called Cera F which you put on as the last thing, which lasts for about 30 seconds or so. It’s quick as anything. But I heard once that full retail price, gram for gram, it costs more than gold dust.

What kind of riding do you do on your days off? Are you always a speed freak?
Nah, a bit of everything really. I love tree runs, or powder if it’s there. Or if not, a bit of park riding.

How are your methods? Would you ever consider pulling one if you were in the gold medal position of the Olympic final [like Lindsey Jacobellis in 2006?]
No, no I wouldn’t. Definitely not! No, anything more than a 180 and my brain goes to mush, but I love to mess about, and do stuff off the edge of the piste. Just you know play on my snowboard.

This is your third Olympics, would you consider going for a fourth?
Yeah – if you look at the people that have medalled at the last couple of Olympics they’re late 20s, early 30s, and I’ll be 32 at the next Olympics so as long as the funding’s still there and I’m still enjoying it, then no reason why not.

Anything more than a 180 and my brain goes to mush.

It seems like boardercross racers can be older. We’ve just seen Nate Holland get a 7th X Games gold and he’s mid 30s…
Yeah and then there’s Shaun Palmer who’s about 45 but he’s still doing pretty good. He was trying to qualify for the Games, I don’t think he actually did it in the end. But yeah in boardercross experience plays quite a high role so yeah the age of boardercross racers seems to be higher than the age of halfpipe riders and stuff.

You’ve been one of a very small crew of British snowboarders at previous Olympics. Does it feel very different now that there’s a whole team?
Yeah it’s awesome that there’s way more snowboarders here than there ever have been before, and it’s great. The more the better really. Unfortunately I only got here a couple of days ago and slopestyle had already happened, but I watched the halfpipe on TV, and I watched the slopestyle on my phone. Jenny’s second run I was in Heathrow airport waiting for my flight and I watched it on BBC iPlayer, refusing to board the flight before I saw her second run. So I saw it but then the wait for the score took forever! I was the last person on the flight, and then I didn’t have enough signal to watch iPlayer, but I had enough for Twitter, so I was just refreshing that like crazy and I got the final result – that she was third – just as they were saying “you’ve now got to switch your phones off.” I was so happy for Jenny.

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Team GB’s freestyle skiers – Katie Summerhayes, Rowan Cheshire and Emma Lonsdale showing their support!

It strikes me there’s a really good vibe in the team, have you felt that?

Yeah definitely. I’m in the snowboard and ski house, so with all the freestyle skiers, a couple of alpine people and then all the snowboarders so it’s a really nice friendly vibe in there. Everyone’s pumped and happy and stuff.

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