Charlotte Bankes almost quit snowboarding before GB switch

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Why Bankes considered quitting snowboarding
Freestyle Ski and Snowboarding World Championships
Dates: 1-10 February
Coverage: Watch live coverage on BBC Red Button, BBC iPlayer, Connected TVs, BBC Sport website and app

Charlotte Bankes is a two-time Olympian and one of the world's leading snowboarders but last year - aged just 22 and in "constant pain" - she came close to quitting.

The British-born rider, who moved to France with her parents at the age of four, began competing internationally for her adopted nation at 15 in 2010.

However, a crash the following year left her with a fractured pelvis and despite reaching two Olympics and claiming multiple World Cup honours, Bankes has been unable to train to full intensity since that day.

Although the French Ski Federation funded surgery and therapy she was frustrated by their inability to find a cure and after a "disappointing" seventh place finish at the 2018 Winter Olympics she decided a change was needed.

"There was no way I could actually continue with the French," she told BBC Sport. "It was either switch, or stop snowboarding."

Although the French team were understandably reluctant to let one of their leading athletes leave they eventually accepted Bankes' decision to represent GB.

After a summer of intense rehabilitation in London the snowboarder feels "strong" and "almost pain free" ahead of her major event debut for Great Britain at the World Championships in Park City, USA, which start on 1 February.

Charlotte Bankes on the podium
That winning feeling... Bankes on the top step as a child

"I'm feeling pretty confident as the beginning of the season has gone really well," she said. "I'm fit, having fun again and I'll try to go for a medal."

Chasing older brothers and beating them to the Olympics

Charlotte's parents - Mark and Kate - simply loved life in the mountains and decided to move the entire family from their home in Hemel Hempstead to France - and specifically Puy-St-Vincent in the southern Alps - in 1999.

Charlotte and her two elder brothers - William and Thomas - would hit the slopes in Valouise almost daily when weather permitted, with the local schools geared up for outdoor activities such as skiing, snowboarding, hiking and cycling.

"I'd started skiing when I was two, but saw my brothers snowboarding and I thought it looked fun and wanted to give it a try," she said.

William competed for France, while Thomas represented Great Britain and in 2013 all three siblings were racing on the same circuit - a situation their mother admits with a smile was "really stressful" at the time.

The brothers, who have now retired, were actively targeting the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, but it was Charlotte who achieved that honour despite only making her World Cup debut months earlier.

"I wasn't expecting it at all - I was in shock," admits Bankes.

"It was their aim not really mine and when I got over there it was massive and a real buzz, but also a bit of a struggle."

Being "the Brit" in the French team

Bankes was one of three British-born athletes to represent France at PyeongChang 2018 - alongside moguls skier Ben Cavet and ski jumper Jonathan Learoyd.

The snowboarder felt "part of the team" but admits they were often referred to as "the British" and by this stage she was already considering her future.

"I was mostly just competing for myself and the local community where I grew up here in France at the Olympics, but not the French," she said.

'The French didn't really think I'd leave…'

Bankes describes that time as "emotionally so tough" as she wrestled with the idea of leaving the sport, but ultimately felt she had more to achieve and reached out to GB Snowsport.

"They were offering me a structure and a new challenge which I thought could be great - but I still had to break the news to the French," she reflected.

"I don't think they really thought I'd go through with it, but for me from when I announced it there was no way back."

Since that decision in November 2018 the snowboarder has gone on to claim two Europa Cup titles and a World Cup bronze medal.

"It's a bit of a new start for me," insists Bankes.

"I feel like decisions that are being made in the (British) team are to help support me and make me perform which I'm really enjoying."

Britain now considered a winter sport nation

Backed by more than £28m of UK Sport investment the Team GB squad secured a record haul of five medals at Pyeongchang 2018 and GB Snowsport have subsequently stated their aim to become a top-five winter sport nation by 2030.

"Five years ago no-one really considered Britain to be a winter sport nation but we're seeing it grow all over," enthused Bankes.

"There's been a really good park and pipe [freestyle] programme for a few years, but it's now coming into other areas like snowboarding, alpine and cross-country skiing.

"Britain is also bringing in aspects that they've used in summer sports - like technology, nutrition and conditioning - into winter sports, which no-one else has done yet."

To Beijing and beyond…

In the short-term Bankes hopes her new-found positivity can push her to at least a World Championship final in the USA on Friday, but she also has long-term ambitions including a place at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.

"I can properly train now which means I can hopefully look forward to some pretty good years ahead," she said.

"Now I have moved over to Britain I'm feeling more British, but I don't think about 'making history' because I just want to go out and do my best.

"It [an Olympic medal] would be pretty amazing though because it's what most people consider the 'ultimate race' and you don't get many chances of going for it, so we'll see what happens."

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