The Winter Olympics in Sochi are barely two years away and this means one thing - us Brits begin the wild speculation of who will wave the flag for Blighty in 2014. The next Olympics will see slopestyle included as a discipline for the first time and the halfpipe is always a favourite so it is been inevitable that most coverage has focused on the freestyle side of things. But behind the scenes, the British boardercross team have been making strides towards some Olympic success of their own. The UK's fastest shredders have spent the season travelling around Europe, competing and putting in the hard yards to prove they are a force to be reckoned with. Evidence of their training was clear at the Brits, where Team GB stormed the boardercross event, claiming the top 7 places in the mens and first place in the womens. Amid the after party in Laax, we caught up with Team GB racer and athlete rep Myles McNeany, who talked about racing, early starts, lack of funding and Olympic dreams.
This year the GB team have enjoyed a good all round season, getting consistent results as they travelled as far as Poland and the Czech Republic in search of valuable rankings points and experience. "I have been snowboarding pretty much none stop since end of September," explains Myles. "It’s a lot of fun, but at the same time it’s really hard work. You get to travel to some really cool and some pretty random ones too. One of the highlights was the trip we took to Eastern Europe. It was as epic as they come. We had four races, four podiums, school dinners, staying in castles and that’s all before you start talking about the time off we had in Prague, Krakow and Vienna. It was big!"
However, along with the perks of competing at an international level and representing your country comes responsibility - it's not all fun and games. There is a hell of a lot of work that goes into being a full time competitor, and not all of it is physical, says Myles. "When you’re competing you can be up very early, and even though you can only do 5-6 runs you’re knacked by the end of the day. In Sedrun this year we got up at 5.30am, we ended up snowboarding to the course in the dark. When this happens it tends to be a mental game to keep focused." Inevitably, this means that an average day involves a lot less partying than an average seasonnaire is used to! "We go to bed early and get up early. It's not that we are boring but the pistes, park or track tend to be better in the morning, especially at this time of the year when it’s slushy. We also pop down to the gym if we still have some power in our legs!"
Boardercross isn't the most glamourous of the snowboard disciplines, and while there is a clear progressional route to get on the freestyle squad at the summer selection camp, it's not so clear cut for the racers. So how do you actually get on the team? "There is no direct feed for the GB snowboardcross team. Basically you have to prove that you at a high enough level to compete internationally, the best way to do it is prove this is to get a FIS license through the BSS (British Ski and Snowboard) and compete at FIS sanctioned SBX events. For me the last couple of years it’s been the University Championships and results at the Brits."
But, as Myles says, regardless of the starting point, everything is geared towards one thing when riding for the GB team. That thing is the Olympics. Like it or loathe it, you can't deny the hype that surrounds the worlds most famous inter-disciplinary competition. And while you might be in Terje's boat and TTR til you die, there are undoubted benefits that come from such a prestigious event. To a great extent these benefits come in the form of funding.
"Everything revolves around the Olympics – funding, training cycles and personally," explains Myles. "Any funding that is given by UK sport is directed to the medal hopefuls for 2014. Most of the team isn’t quite at the level yet to compete at the 2014 Olympics yet, but in the next funding cycle after the next Olympics there is hope for long term investment through to 2018." However, that is not to say that Sochi isn't the target. "We already have Thomas Bankes [BRITS boardercross winner] who is of the level to compete in World Cups and has started to hit some of the requirements to qualify for the Olympics. It would be great to have the first male snowboardcross rider from GBR in the 2014 Olympics."
Of course, the Olympics isn't the be all and end all for the GB Team. As Myles emphasises, it's also amazing to be able to spend all season in the mountains and work to progress your own riding levels. "The fact that my office is a mountain is amazing. My goal personally is to compete at as high a level as possible. Getting myself into a shape to compete in World Cups is the first big step. The team on the whole has the potential to create a whole group of World Cup athletes."
And what about the near future? What is next for the GB boardercross team? "Well," says Myles. "We have a bit of training left for the end of the season, but it’s been getting pretty slushy in Morzine where I'm based. Then it’s back to the UK to slave away over the summer, earn some more money. Before you know it pre-season will have started! Next season should be good, hopefully get another trip sorted, similar to the Eastern Europe trip. Hopefully to Canada if funds allow, but it all depends on what the team wants to do, and how the race calendar pans out."
"What’s important is that we have a good group of people together and we can work on getting even better results than this season!" We at Whitelines wont be betting against them.
Words by Joel Plaja