After the struggle, snowboarder Ormerod looks ahead to the triumph

After the struggle, snowboarder Ormerod looks ahead to the triumph

29 October 2018 / 07:56
Katie Ormerod could empathise with the uniquely Korean trait of 한. With no literal translation it is said to describe a feeling of sorrow, unavenged injustice, unfairness and isolation that is so profound that no emotions show.

As the snowboarder sat in a hospital in Seoul, just days after the training incident that ruled her out of her first Olympics, it certainly appeared there were no tears left to cry.

But they are built of steely stuff in a sport where the law of averages measures thrills with spills in equal measure. 

The 21-year old snowboarder was considered one of Team GB's best medal hopes in PyeongChang, following a succession of podiums at World Cup level.

But two broken bones in the space of 24 hours meant she watched the opening ceremony from hospital, after undergoing the first of many surgeries on a fractured heel.

Ormerod, the youngest woman to land a double backflip on a snowboard, was a medal contender in both the slopestyle and big air events. But in her short career she has not had the best of luck, which perhaps goes with the territory of a sport that pushes boundaries and defies gravity. 

She missed out on the 2014 Sochi Games after injuries curtailed her qualifying season and was ruled out of last year's World Championships after fracturing a vertebra in her back in pre-competition training.

However, seven operations later, Ormerod believes she’ll only be stronger for the experience. After all, Olympic founder Pierre de Courbetin wrote a lot about the triumph and struggle - she knows about the latter, now it’s time to focus again on the former.

“I always knew that I’d come out the other side stronger but they were such difficult times,” said Ormerod.

“I was in the most horrendous pain for about three months and I didn’t know at that point how bad it was and whether I’d be able to snowboard again. I was a little bit lost at times and didn’t know which direction life was going but I always knew deep down that I would get through it.

“I definitely went through a lot of tough times at the start and I just had to remind myself that every athlete goes through injuries. I had to stay positive and use all my support team around me. 

“I really focused on using the physical side of my rehab to help the mental side. I put it all into my strength training because it took my mind off everything else, I knew every weight I lifted would help me walk a bit easier.

“The injury is now going really well. It’s obviously been a rollercoaster and definitely not how I imagined the Olympics to go.

“They’ve just taken the screws out so hopefully that will be it now and it will fix the pain I’m in. I hope I will be back around January time and I know I will return stronger.”

Already an X-Games medallist, Ormerod won bronze at the Olympic test event and became the first Briton to win a World Cup Big Air competition last year.

Her Halifax hometown, 449 feet above sea level, is not the sort of place you expect to find a Winter Olympian but it's on the dry slope of the local ski centre that she first strapped on a board.

Just over a decade later she became the first woman to land a dizzying, gravity-defying backside double-cork 1080 – two 360-degree front flips and a full 360-degree corkscrew spin.

Injuries, she insists, come with the job description. And it’s been ever thus, as a four-year old she threw herself out of a cardboard box attempting a gymnastics trick and broke her nose.

“I think since I was young I’ve had this desire to push myself and challenge women’s snowboarding - the injury won’t change that,” she added. 

“A lot of people said women would never be able to do these tricks, that only guys could do it. I just wanted to prove them wrong and so I went and did that and put all my effort into it.”

Ormerod moved home to focus on her recovery, her boyfriend even relocating to the UK to support her through a seemingly never ending timetable of operations, doctors appointments and rehab sessions. Team-mates from Britain’s close-knit park and pipe squad did their bit too but Ormerod’s constant supporter was her cocker spaniel.

“Belle is like my best friend, she’s the cutest,” she said. “She’s been a massive help for me in my recovery. Dogs are so smart, it’s like she knew I was injured, specially at the start. She would come and sit with me and make me feel better.”

They say every dog has their day, hopefully Belle and Katie’s will come in just under 40 months in Beijing. Few athletes deserve it more.

By James Toney, Sportsbeat

Sportsbeat 2018

Header photo credit: Sam Mellish