Man in a suitcase Woods laments demise of venue where it all began

Freestyle skier James Woods.
Freestyle skier James Woods.
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From Sheffield to Sochi via the southern-most city in the world, James Woods has traversed the planet in pursuit of his sport and is relishing the prospect of placing a Winter Olympic medal in his constantly employed suitcase.

The 22-year-old has led a nomadic existence since reaching the elite level in ski slopestyle, a freestyle discipline which will make its debut at the Games with the women’s event on February 11 and the men’s two days later.

Woods has slept at home on just five occasions in the last year and his permanently changing routine involves pitching up with bags of clothes and equipment and tieing a Union Jack flag behind his bed in a bid to make his latest crash-pad feel a little more like home.

Since winning his first World Cup in Ushuaia on the tip of Tierra del Fuego in Argentina last year, Woods has found himself thrust into the spotlight as one of Great Britain’s best prospects for Olympic gold in Sochi.

At the root of his success is not some distant glacial paradise but the old toothbrush-like dry slope at Sheffield Ski Village, which now sulks in his home city as a burned-out and unretrievable wreck. Woods describes the venue’s current plight as “heart-breaking” and there is a sad irony in the fact that while he and his good friend and fellow graduate Katie Summerhayes stand on the brink of Olympic success, the place that honed their skills is likely to be earmarked for demolition.

“I never even dreamed of going to the Olympics when I was younger and it was all about the X Games,” said Woods. “We’d stop in the middle of a session and say, ‘right, your X Games run is happening now’. You’d have to pull it all together in one run.”

Woods realised a long-held dream when he won a bronze medal at the Aspen X Games last year, a season in which he also won the overall World Cup title in his discipline as well as a silver medal in the World Championships in Voss. That career year set him up perfectly for the Olympics.

Woods insists the sacrifices he has made to succeed make a mockery of some suggestions that the laid-back band of freestyle stars are somehow less inclined to appreciate the magnitude of being invited to perform on the Olympic stage.

“A lot of us are show-offs and like performing on camera, but it would be foolish to say we don’t get nervous or that we won’t be taking our runs extremely seriously,” he said.

“The Olympics are a great chance for us to showcase our sport and get more kids involved back home. Of course we’re out there for fun and having the time of our lives, but we will all be deadly serious when it comes to getting it right in Sochi.”