World-class snowboarders from Brighouse may be about as common as a congestion-free commute on the nearby M62, but do not be surprised if in a few weeks such an anomaly is making headlines at the Winter Olympics.
Katie Ormerod is a petite 20-year-old, but inside this Yorkshire lass beats the heart of a born competitor and one of Team GB’s biggest medal hopes at the Winter Games in PyeongChang, which get underway in a fortnight’.
Adrenalin junkie Ormerod goes for gold in South Korea next month in both snowboard slopestyle and Big Air, two of the more exciting and typically off-the-wall disciplines on the Winter Olympics programme.
She has the results to back up the expectations on her slender shoulders – a bronze medal at the test event in PyeongChang last year one of the more notable ones – and the single-minded drive that belies the image of a sport that is for cool hipsters and rebellious souls.
Snowboarding is serious business in the world of winter sports, and Ormerod is one of the most serious competitors.
“I’m feeling really confident going into these Games. I feel like I’m in the best position possible to bring back a medal,” she says as she sits in a conference room in Stockport moments after being presented with her Team GB Olympic kit for the first time.
Ormerod is at the Adidas headquarters just outside Manchester at the now-traditional ‘kitting out’ ritual that all aspiring British Olympians go through when their dreams have been realised.
Four years after narrowly missing out on this exciting rite-of-passage as a 16-year-old, Ormerod the young woman is the picture of focus and calm while many of her fellow debutants are just happy to be along for the ride.
“I was gutted to miss out on Sochi, but ever since then I’ve just been thinking about going to PyeongChang,” she says.
“Looking back it was not the worst thing in the world. It would have been amazing to go at 16. But if I had gone to Sochi it would have been just to experience it and not bring back a medal, whereas this time I’m going there in the best position I can be in. I’ve got all the tricks I want, I’m riding really well and I’m going there with a goal.”
There is a softer side to the determined tone of Ormerod.
Family is important. It was her mother and father who introduced her to snowboarding at the age of five when they tried the sport at Halifax Ski and Snowboard Centre, a venue that would play a crucial role in her development in the sport.
Already an aspiring gymnast – “they put me into gymnastics because I was jumping out of boxes and going mental in the house” – snowboarding further quenched her thirst for an active lifestyle.
When, in her early teens, she had to decide between snowboarding and gymnastics, Ormerod opted for the snow-peaked mountains because of the embracing culture of the sport.
Looking back it was not the worst thing in the world. It would have been amazing to go at 16. But if I had gone to Sochi it would have been just to experience it and not bring back a medal, whereas this time I’m going there in the best position I can be in.Katie Ormerod
“Snowboarding is great because it’s such a nice atmosphere and everyone wants each other to do well to make them better snowboarders,” says Ormerod, whose background in gymnastics helps level the playing field with competitors from more Alpine regions.
Beyond that, it is her own creativity and fearlessness that help keep her competitive.
Medals are won in slopestyle – a descent down a course with six or seven obstacles on which to do tricks and turns – and in Big Air, which demands the most elaborate of routines off one huge jump, on the degree of difficulty and the quality of the execution.
“Slopestyle debuted in Sochi and it was amazing, it opened the Olympics up to the snowboard community,” says Ormerod.
“Now we’ve got Big Air there as well. The Olympic competition is going to be interesting because the girls keep progressing, we’ve all got new tricks that we haven’t done before.
“I don’t prioritise Big Air or slopestyle. Some people think I’m better at Big Air because I’ve got more medals in that, but I’m confident in both.”
If she is successful in her bid to reach the podium – which would make her only the second British snowboarder in history to do so – Ormerod hopes it inspires more people to go to Halifax Ski and Snowboard Centre to try their hand at a sport that has enchanted her, and to give her some company in the ranks of world-class snowboarders from Brighouse.