Jones takes ride from doughnut factory to Olympic bronze

10 February 2014 / 06:19

She's the former cupboard inspector, doughnut factory worker and chalet girl who is now Great Britain's first, and so far only, Winter Olympic medallist on snow.

Much was made of British hopes of ending a 90-year run without a medal on the white stuff in Sochi, but it was the teenage 'Fridge Kids', so dubbed because they learned their skills at the UK's indoor snow domes, who were expected to deliver.

Instead, 33-year-old snowboarder Jenny Jones proved in winning bronze that, even in a sport designed for the Xbox generation, there are still some tricks that only old-timers know.

Jones is considered something of a pioneer when it comes to slopestyle, which involves impressing judges with a range of gravity-defying tricks down a course of rails and jumps. She is a two-time X Games champion, which was the pinnacle of her sport until the International Olympic Committee - looking to freshen up the Games and appeal the younger audiences - gave it the go-ahead for inclusion in Sochi. 

However, those 'in the know' - they usually wear baggy trousers and baseball caps at a jaunty angle - thought her time had gone. They were wrong. 

"I found out three years ago that this was going to happen and I wondered whether I could hang on and just make the team," said Jones, the oldest qualifier to the final by more than six years.

"I don't feel like an old lady, these girls are a lovely bunch and they keep me young and allow me out late to party every now and then. I just can't believe I've had this opportunity, there was only a slim chance slopestyle would be included here and I wanted so much just to be an Olympian, everything else was a bonus.

"I used to focus on the X Games and that was my goal but this feels extra special. I'm feel very proud to have won a bronze medal for my country, I can't believe it's our first on snow. It all feels very surreal."

Jones certainly made the podium the hard way after missing automatic qualification to the final by just one place. She came through the semi-finals and was second of the 12 riders in the final to 'drop in'.

That meant, after posting the leading score after her second run, she faced an anxious wait. For 15 minutes she was top of the leaderboard, then she spent 13 minutes in silver before slipping into bronze as the last rider took to the course.

She couldn't watch, virtually stripping the Union flags painted on her fingernails in anxiety before the Austrian Anna Gasser, who had been the most impressive qualifier, made a decisive error that meant her medal was secure.

She responded with hysterical laughter and was still giggling two hours later.

"It was so difficult just waiting, the feeling of relief is ridiculous now I've managed to get that medal," added Jones, who wipes slalom skier Gina Hathorn from the record books. Britain's previous most successful snow sport athlete placed fourth at the 1968 Games in Grenoble. 

"I gave myself a lot to do having to come through the semi-finals but I just tried to keep focused and keep my game head on. When I was leading I knew I was going to drop down because of the quality of girls to come, it was just a question whether I'd drop out of the medals."

The gold medallist Jamie Anderson, considered one of the favourites, revealed that she meditated, burned some sage and did some yoga in an attempt to "calm her spirit" ahead of yesterday's final. Jones said she just watched Downton Abbey.

The story of her rise to prominence is almost as dramatic. She only took up the sport as a 17-year old, attending a free drop-in lesson at the Churchill dry slope in her hometown of Bristol, highest 'peak' 369 ft, last year's total snowfall, six inches.

Hooked from the off, she followed her dream around winter seasons in Europe, funded by working in factories and bars during the summer months. 

Yet on the eve of these Games, she thought her Olympic dream was over; before Christmas she suffered concussion in a training accident in Austria and had to spend four weeks at home away from the snow.

She took inspiration from the career of Katherine Grainger, the rower who won Olympic gold, ending a run of three silvers, at the London 2012 Games. 

"Her story really resonated with me," she added. "I don't know much about rowing but I knew what she'd been through and how she had never given up. I watched her Olympic race on television and I was in tears. I learned so much from her determination."

Remarkably, Jones' medal ensures Britain got off the mark at these Games more quickly than they did at London 2012 and, although medals certainly won't flow with the same regularity, hopes of eclipsing their most successful Winter Olympics ever, four medals 90 years ago in Chamonix, will only be heightened.

For those interested in the technical aspects of Jones' run, it was a 'run Gap to 50/50, 50/50 front 180 out, cab board slide, 50/50 front one out, cab 540 grab, back 360 grab, front side seven Indy'. 

Few will know what that means but to her, it meant everything.

From James Toney, Sportsbeat, in Sochi

© Sportsbeat 2014/ Photos © Joe Morgan/Team GB