Winter Olympics: Why are teenagers SO good at snowboarding?

By Libby DawesBBC Sport
Red Gerard
Red Gerard, was doing incredible "man-sized tricks" at the age of 10, attracting the attention of big-name sponsors.

They are not even old enough to vote yet but Americans Red Gerard and Chloe Kim are already Olympic champions.

Gerard, 17, upset the odds to take gold in the men's snowboarding slopestyle at the Winter Olympics in South Korea, beating competitors as much as 12 years his senior.

Kim, also 17, dominated the women's halfpipe field to take victory on day four of the Games.

But these teenagers are by no means anomalies in the wider snowboarding community.

Ski Sunday's Ed Leigh, who has followed the sport's progression for over 25 years says this is the way the sport is going.

"Experience certainly has its benefits but a lot of the older riders aren't prepared to take the risks the youngsters are," Leigh said.

"Some of the world's best are as young as 13, and in controlled environments, they are capable of incredible feats".

(Depressingly, the "older" riders to whom he refers are not even in their late 20s, by the way)

So why aren't the so-called "world's best" in Pyeongchang?

According to Leigh, Japan's Kokomo Murase is "probably the best female snowboarder in the world right now, but at 13 it would be too soon to compete on this Olympic stage.

"It would be like putting a 13-year-old in a Formula 1 car", Leigh said.

"It doesn't matter how good they are at driving go-karts, you can't give them that much power."

Gerard, was doing incredible "man-sized tricks" at the age of 10, attracting the attention of big-name sponsors.

"But if you put a feather-light teenager on a course with jumps this size, in these windy conditions, it wouldn't take much to blow them off course and that is how people get hurt" Leigh said.

"You need a mature decision-making process to keep you safe."

This was evident during the women's slopestyle final, where strong winds made for treacherous conditions. American Jamie Anderson - 26, a veteran in snowboarding terms - took gold.

Leigh said in his commentary: "It wasn't about anyone's best run, it was about who could survive and it's no surprise that two of the three medals were made up of the most experienced riders."

So where do they find these 'kids'?

Funnily enough, scouts are no longer starting their search for potential Olympic champions on the slopes.

"The problem snowboarding has" Leigh tells us, "is that kids with 'potential' are probably slipping through the net all the time.

"Everyone kicks a football at a young age so you are unlikely to miss talent, but not everyone has the funds or the facilities to discover they could be good at snowboarding."

So where can you catch them?

Answer: In gymnastics clubs.

"In the same way heptathletes were farmed into skeleton, we are going to see kids who have gymnastics or acrobatic backgrounds starting to get pulled into snowboarding.

"The snowboard skills can come later but kids these days need to show acrobatic prowess by eight or nine years old."

So now you know.

Want to be an elite snowboarder?

Join a gymnastics club.

Max Whitlock
Could Max Whitlock have been an Olympic gold winning snowboarder if he'd been spotted at a young age?

Who are the teens to look out for in Pyeongchang?

The Japanese are a very young team. Hiroaki Kunitake, who turned 16 on February 10 and Yuri Okubo, 17, have both performed well in big air in recent months. Yuto Totsuka, 16, is also a contender in the men's halfpipe.

The original favourite for the men's slopestyle, Marcus Kleveland, 18 is hoping for redemption in big air. But can Gerard do the double?

American Hailey Langland, 17 won the women's big air at X Games in 2017 so is one to watch in that event.

New Zealand's Zoi Sadowski-Synnott is 16 - she finished 13th in the women's slopestyle but took the silver medal in the same event at last year's World Championships. She also finished just outside the medals in the big air competition at that event so will be an outsider if the conditions are right in Pyeongchang.

Hiroaki Kunitake
Hiroaki Kunitake of Japan only turned 16 on February 10 but is competing in the men's halfpipe

Top Stories


Explore the BBC