The countdown to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi continues in the picturesque Austrian Alps for one of British winter sports’ most maverick competitors.
Zoe Gillings is the kind of person who fits the stereotype of her chosen sport.
The 27-year-old is an adrenaline junkie, fearless and a lover of life; the perfect recipe for someone who competes in snowboard cross. Boardercross, as the athletes call it, was one of the more radical and explosive additions to the winter programme in 1997.
Snowboarders hurtle out of the start gate down a ramp and along a course that resembles a BMX track with the first one across the line the winner. Twists, turns and jumps ensure that more often than not, the challengers end up smashing into each other. It is dangerous for the protagnoists but utterly compelling for viewers.
“I’ve had five concussions, a broken collar bone, broken foot, a torn cartlidge in my knee and more twisted ankles than I can remember,” said Gillings, who moved to Leeds after her second Olympics in Vancouver in 2010.
Gillings does condition training at Leeds Rugby’s gym. Like all British winter Olympians, she has to find a way to compensate for the lack of snow and ice on which to train, that her competitors take for granted. She only trains for two months a year on actual snow.
Despite past funding problems adding to the challenges she faces, Gillings has acquitted herself well. She is ranked sixth in the world and ahead of the eight-leg World Cup series which begins today in Montafon, is confident of winning a medal. Her long-term ambition is reaching the podium in Sochi.
“Having finished 15th and eighth the last two Olympics, a medal would be good this time,” she said.