Snowboarder Morgan still pushing the boundaries and feeling 'the fear'

Snowboarder Morgan still pushing the boundaries and feeling 'the fear'

10 November 2017 / 07:57
You don’t measure Billy Morgan’s spirit in halves. Quick-witted and confident, with candid moments of self-doubt, the British snowboarder defies gravity and explanation.
All of which seems a little hard to believe when you see him flying, twisting and spinning through the air without an apparent care.

It’s six years since he became an internet sensation when he landed the first Triple Backside Rodeo 1260 and, in 2015, he became the first man to land the big one, a Quad Cork 1800 - which features five dizzying rotations in just under three seconds.

Filmed by team-mate Ben Kilner, the trick has been viewed over a million times on YouTube.  It was, Morgan says, the ‘maximum adrenaline rush’, though his major feeling is now relief that the thousands of things that could have gone wrong didn’t.

“I think some people don’t get ‘the fear’ but as I get older I get it more now than before,” he admits. “It’s really scary but I overcome it by remembering that I always calculate the risks properly but some days you just feel less confident than others.

“I think I’ve got a grasp on it and I push it to one side. But, when I go to bed, sometimes I find it hard to get to sleep because I’m just fretting about stuff in my head. But when that moment comes, you don’t really have time to be worrying about how scared you are.”

If only they dished out Olympic medals for likability and effortless cool. Morgan, who began his sporting career as an acrobatic gymnast in Southampton before swapping to the slopes, talks of rivals as friends but don’t doubt his ambition or competitive streak.

Billy Morgan with Visa UK

He placed tenth in the inaugural Olympic slopestyle event in Sochi but the inclusion of big air in Pyeongchang - he won X Games bronze in the discipline last year - presents the 28-year old with arguably a better medal opportunity.

However, he admits to not knowing which event comes first, though don’t take this laid-back approach for anything close to a lack of desire.

“For snowboarders in my generation it’s always been about having fun,” he adds. “But the competitive aspect of our sport now has changed things. However, if you try to take away the fun from us, we won’t be as good.

“I loved Sochi and the Olympic experience. I’m really lucky that I went to the last one and that I can go forward into Pyeongchang knowing exactly what I want to get from it.

“However, if I’d known about all the people that were rooting for me it would definitely have put the pressure on. I just stress about the competitive stuff. It’s the stuff that goes around it that’s fun, getting to go to cool places with friends. Competitions are really stressful - they can hurt.”

morganGettyImages-868650298While the lexicon of the sport suggests otherwise, snowboarding now is a serious business. Jenny Jones, who won Team GB’s first Olympic medal on snow with her slopestyle bronze in Sochi, brought big investment and big expectations.

Dan Hunt, British Ski and Snowboard’s recently-appointed performance director, arrived from British Cycling via the Football Association. Steeped in the school of marginal gains, he coached British teams to Olympic gold in Beijing and London, Hunt has set about giving his athletes every advantage he can. 

Morgan will spend many of the weeks ahead in Italy, where the British team have exclusive use of a unique airbag, which allows snowboarders and free-skiers to hone their tricks without the concern of a heavy landing and associated fractures.

For Morgan, who picked up an injury three months before Sochi that nearly ruled him out of the Games, it’s revolutionary.

“Five months ago I’d have said that this close to the Olympics doesn’t give us a lot of room for tweaking and changing our tricks but the airbag has changed all that,” he said. 

“God knows what we could learn on it before Pyeongchang, it could be game changing. Some of the guys are getting their best tricks on lock and I wouldn’t have this new trick that I’ve got to take forward without it.”

Snowboarding remains at that intersection of art and sport, where pushing boundaries means as much as climbing podiums.

So how would Morgan like to be remembered? The first man to land a quad or the first British man to win an Olympic medal on snow?

“Do I have to choose one?” he says.  

“If I hadn’t already done it, I’d probably say I’d want to do the quad, but no - I’d rather have a medal. I think. I don’t have an Olympic medal, so that’d be … decent.”

By James Toney, Sportsbeat

Sportsbeat 2017