Sheffield’s Olympian James Woods on living in a “dinky caravan” to chase his sporting dreams

James Woods.
James Woods.
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Starring at the Winter Olympics was the last thing on James Woods’s mind when he was growing up perfecting his tricks on the dry ski slope in his native Sheffield.

Freestyle skiing was still some years from making its debut on the Olympic programme and Woods, in common with most of his contemporaries, had his eyes only on earning a place at the prestigious, extreme-sports X Games.

In fact the Olympics were such an alien concept to Woods that when his sport of ski-slopestyle was first added to the Games for Sochi 2014, it was no certainty the 26-year-old, by then one of the leading exponents of his sport, would choose to compete at all.

Woods said: “The Olympics is not the world I grew up in. It’s not the dream I’ve had since I was a kid.

“I remember the first discussion I had with my friend and coach Pat Sharples. He was like, ‘do you even want to do it?’ and I was like, ‘I don’t know’.

“I had no opinion at all about the Olympic Games. The only thing I knew about it was how amazing it was to watch the 100m sprint every time it came around.”

Olympic inclusion comes at a price, with results-driven funding targets an anathema to the anarchic world of freestyle, and it is one Woods concedes he has often struggled to contend with.

However, as he approaches his second Games in Pyeongchang as one of Great Britain’s best medal hopes, on the back of a fifth career X Games medal in Aspen last month, it is a concept to which he is finally coming round.

“My whole thing is about inspiring people, and if I can inspire just one person to get outside and find out what they love and pursue it, then that’s mission accomplished,” added Woods.

“The Olympics is a wonderful opportunity for me and the guys that I ride with to take off our prima-donna selfish heads for a second and actually do something for our country.

“Every week is a different party. You’re hustling and bustling and the only difference at the Olympics is that the guys you are hustling and bustling with are wearing GB kits.”

Woods’s Olympic debut in Sochi did not go entirely to plan, a brave fifth place finish masking a serious hip injury which subsequently required weeks of rehabilitation.

But it marked the latest unlikely chapter of a journey which started in Sheffield and led him on a penniless quest around the ski resorts of Europe in a bid to fulfil his X Games dream.

“I know what I love – skiing, surfing and skydiving,” added Woods. “I’ve gone from sleeping in train stations and living in a dinky caravan for a year to get to the competitions all because of my passion for skiing.

“Nothing really changes in my life and the Olympics won’t change anything either. I’m proud to represent my country and maybe in 20 or 30 years I’ll look back on it in a different light.

“But right now I’m just a competitive athlete, a skier, and now is not the time to think about what a big deal it is.”

International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach has criticised the Court of Arbitration for Sport after it overturned lifetime doping bans for 28 Russians.

The IOC plans to appeal after CAS, sport’s highest court, ruled last Thursday there was “insufficient evidence” to uphold the suspensions issued by the IOC following an investigation into state-sponsored doping at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

In a further 11 cases anti-doping violations were confirmed, but their lifetime bans have been reduced just to cover the 2018 Winter Games, which open in Pyeongchang, South Korea on Friday.

The IOC must wait for a reasoned decision from CAS before an appeal can be launched. CAS has told the IOC this will not be available until the end of February, Bach said in Pyeongchang on Sunday.

“This CAS decision is extremely disappointing and surprising for the IOC. We never expected this,” Bach told a media conference.

“We only know about the reasons from a very few sentences in a press release.”