Sportsister caught up with Zoe Gillings, the UK’s number one boardercross snowboarder, as she trained at the Institute of Sport at Bath University for the summer.
How did you get to be the UK’s leading female snowboarder, coming as you do from the Isle of Mann?
My parents have a house in Albertville in the French Alps, so I have been going out there for winter holidays since I was about three and a half; that’s when I first learnt to ski. But I got bored of it by the time I was ten, and my older brother was snowboarding, so I thought I’d give him a challenge. I haven’t looked back and I think I’ve probably only done a week’s skiing since then.
When did you compete in your first competition?
Three weeks after I first started snowboarding; I wasn’t very good. I remember watching a video of myself in that competition and I was absolutely awful.
The first few years it was just sort of coincidence that if we were on holiday and there was a competition nearby then I would enter it. And then after that I went out and searched for competitions. And my older brother was competing as well so I followed him around and went to the same camps as he did. It worked quite well really.
How did you manage to train for a sport when it is not on your doorstop?
With difficulty, we went out to France basically any time we could as I was growing up, usually with family and then when I was sixteen I wanted to go and do a season. Most people who do that go out to work at a resort, but
I actually wanted to be coached, so I found the coach that I’d had the year before, and I hooked up with him and went out and joined the team that he was running in Canada.
Were you not a bit apprehensive about going to Canada for six months at 16 years old?
Well, not really, it just kind of felt natural because it was what I wanted to do. And there was nothing stopping me doing it. My mum came out to get me settled, stayed a couple of weeks and then left me to it.
So how did that work with the British team? Presumably you were in the team at that time?
At the time there wasn’t really a British team, there was a junior team of sorts, and a few other people who would go to world cup competitions every now and again, but there wasn’t the structure that there is now. That didn’t actually start developing until about two years after I went to Canada.
What was your motivation at 16?
I wanted to get good and do better in the competitions, that was my main goal. The first time that snowboarding was included in the Olympics was when I was 16, and that’s when I thought that’s what I want to do, although boarder cross, which is the event that I eventually specialised in, didn’t actually get in until 2006.
Explain boarder cross for us
It’s a bit like the BMX racing that you may have seen in the summer games. You have qualification runs to start with, where you do a timed run, the top 16 girls and the top 32 boys then go into heats. Then you go down the same course but four at a time, and the first two to get to the bottom go thought to the next round, so it’s a knock-out competition.
Is it scary? Do you get frightened?
Yeah the other people around make a big difference, because it’s so unpredictable and you don’t know what they’re going to do. Obviously if you knew what route they were going to take it would be different. I mean you don’t know if they’re going to catch an edge, or pick up some speed and pass right in front of you or fall over.
Is there any sort of etiquette?
You’re not allowed to push people, you’re not allowed to interfere with the others, you can’t grab hold of their bib or such like. There’s nothing preventing you cutting in front of them though, but thats a risky strategy.
‘It is quite frustrating though as there has been many a time where I been coming into a corner and someone has cut across me and I’ve run straight into them – there is just nothing you can do about it, it’s awful.’
Are there ever any plans to change the rules at all?
No, I think that really it is all part of the sport. It would be so hard to police. It’s basically the things you do on purpose that you get penalised for, you can’t really penalise someone for things like that, and it’s usually detrimental to them anyway.
So what’s your training routine, what do you do over the summer?
Well I’m in the gym a lot, about five or six days a week. Some strength, a lot of balance work, and some reaction training. And a lot of riding around on bicycles down hills and stuff. I just found a BMX track actually so I’m going to go and check that out soon.
Also a new thing for me, which is great, is that I have had a boarder cross gate built, funded by the Manx Sports Aid Foundation. It’s really important to get a good start and to get out of the gate with a lot of power and very quickly. Now we have one at the University in Bath so that I can practice, it has dry ski slope material on it and I can start over and over again.
Do you have to be careful about getting injured?
Yes I do unfortunately, It’s a careful balance really as I cannot do anything too dangerous. If I got injured it could put me out for months, but yet I’ve got such an adventurous spirit that I get bored just in the gym.
Are there any other sports that you’d really like to try?
Well there are a few, but I had a bad accident doing a stunt for a car ad about three years ago and my foot is a bit dodgy now – I shattered it and was told I would probably never snowboard again, but I did. I would like to try pole vaulting but I can’t do the run-up. It took me three years to get back to this level, so I don’t want to risk anything.
Is that going to affect your career at all do you think?
It has done for the last few years. Last year was the first season I competed again properly, but it shouldn’t too much in the future. I can take a little bit of impact, but not too much.
Do the women get as much support as the men?
Yes, except that boys will get more shots in magazines as they can jump higher and longer. But sponsors are pretty even and the guys are pretty good to the girls – they try to encourage them a lot and get them to attempt new things.
What are your aims?
Olympic gold, I want to go to Vancouver, they haven’t released the qualification standards yet, but I should be fine.
Danielle Sellwood, Sportsister
The Women’s Sports Magazine
Zoe is an ambassador for the Nike ‘Here I Am’ Campaign encouraging young women to participate in sport as a healthy body is a healthy mind. For more information visit www.nikehereiam.com
Photos: Nike - Zoe Gillings as featured in Her Favourites
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