Pat Sharples’s infectious positivity is keeping Great Britain’s freestyle skiers in an upbeat mood as they start their Winter Olympic qualification campaign.
Famously once referred to as the ‘pied piper of British skiing’, Sharples been instrumental in the development of the the self-styled ‘Fridge Kids’ - young British skiers who honed their trade in snow domes or on dry slopes and are now challenging the world’s best.
He is the first British coach of any World Cup winner, guiding James Woods - who describes his mentor as a ‘legend’ and ‘best mate’ - to the overall Crystal Globe title in 2013. He is part coach and part confidante but acknowledges it will take more than unfailing dedication to the cause in the weeks ahead.
World Cup podium regulars James Woods and Katie Summerhayes, fifth and seventh at the Sochi Olympics, remain his star charges but Madi Rowlands, a gold medallist at this year’s Youth Olympic Games, and Izzy Atkin are also catching the attention with their performances.
The race is now on for Olympic qualification points, meaning every competition becomes important but Sharples is trying not to ramp up the pressure.
“It’s going to be a manic few months and the guys are really putting in the extra time but they still love it,” he said. “If they weren’t trying to qualify for the Olympics, they’d still be out there skiing every day.
“It’s going to be intense and it’s all about being consistent and keeping the guys fit and healthy.
“Four years ago we didn’t have the program we have got now. The extra support, the strength and conditioning programs, physios and coaching staff. I feel that we have got more around the athletes than ever before and we are more equipped than ever before.
“At the moment we haven’t even talked about expectations as I don’t feel that we really need to. We are just focussing on progression and consistency at the moment, and our performance.
“If we are thinking about medals and results, it’s just going to freak them out. We are just focusing on getting those new tricks so we can go out there and be contenders.”
Woods, whose fifth place in Sochi came despite a hip injury that really should have sidelined him, has spent the last few months working in Australia and New Zealand while Summerhayes enjoyed a consistent 2016 and finished an encouraging sixth at the Olympic test event.
Sharples labels Woods as a ‘superstar’ and describes Summerhayes as the ‘hardest working athlete you will ever see’ while new team member Atkins also gets special praise.
“She is super quiet and super focussed. She doesn’t say too much but she absolutely delivers,” he says.
But it’s the squad mentality and the determination to keep pushing the boundaries which really excites the British coach - who knows that despite his sport’s seemingly laidback vibe, expectations for success are high.
“I’m also really excited by the young guys who have joined the team over the last few years,” adds Sharples.
“The whole team are just such big personalities and everyone handles themselves in their own different ways but at the end of the day they are all doing what they love. They get more excited when they learn a new trick than they do about any competition.
“I think it’s just the kind of sport we were in really. I have been involved in this from the start and all of the guys that I have coached got involved in the sport before there was Olympics was an option and they did it purely for the love of the sport. Learning new tricks was just so exciting for them.
“We have all grown up together, and been on this journey together. I am learning every day and there’s nothing that I would be prouder to be a part of. To see them grow the way they have is incredible.”
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