Thrills and spills are guaranteed as Gillings hits gold trail to Russia

It requires a constant need for an adrenaline rush and a high threshold to pain to do what Zoe Gillings does for a living.

Leeds-based snowboarder Zoe Gillings

In the pursuit of happiness and glory, the 28-year-old erupts out of a start gate and hurtles down a snow-capped mountain on her snowboard.

Nothing strange you might think there, given snowboarding, like skiing, is a popular winter pastime for the thrill-seekers among us.

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But throw in three other people jockeying for position on a course that is only 10 metres wide in places and includes jumps, beams and turns, and you begin to understand just what Gillings does for kicks.

Leeds-based snowboarder Zoe Gillings

Her sport of choice is snowboard cross, which has to be one of the most madcap there is, for its high speeds, gravity-defying action and general unpredictability.

To throw even greater uncertainty into the calamitous nature of snowboard cross, for the 2014 Winter Olympics that begin in the Black Sea resort of Sochi 100 days from now, organisers have decreed that four snowboarders on the narrow, treacherous shoot at one time is just simply not enough. So for the sport’s third Olympic appearance, six people race each other in a series of elimination races leading up to the final.

“The unpredictability makes it more exciting,” is Gillings’s matter-of-fact assessment of a sport that is guaranteed to enthrall.

“If the same person was winning every race and I was finishing in the same position, then it would get a bit dull.”

As it is, Gillings – who was born in the Isle of Man but is an adopted Yorkshirewoman after choosing to live in Leeds for its convenience and amenities – has finished in every position possible in a career spanning two Olympic competitions and countless World Cup meets.

She has beaten everyone she could potentially come up against in Sochi. Equally, she has also crashed out at high speed long before the finish of races.

“The flip side to the unpredictability is if you’re in a race and riding really well but a girl comes crashing into the side of you then there’s nothing you can do about it,” adds Gillings.

“That can be frustrating, that you can be taken out for something that’s not your fault at all.

“Obviously it’s not the safest of sports but by the time you get on the course and start racing the other girls there’s no time to worry about injuries.

“But, it’s the same for everyone and you have to deal with that.”

As much as anyone can be a favourite in snowboard cross, Gillings – who is ranked eighth in the world – is a good outside bet for a medal.

For all the randomness of the sport, there is a high level of skill, technique, speed and flair required. Gillings is as diligent in her preparation as any of her rivals, the majority of which have the advantage of year-round snow to practice on.

UK Sport, who have restored their backing, built Gillings a mobile start gate that she occasionally uses in the back garden of her home in West Yorkshire to enable her to work year round on the muscle movements required to help her explode out of the blocks.

She does nine sessions a week of strength and conditioning work at Edge Gym in Leeds, is a regular visitor to Snozone in Castleford to test equipment, and is regularly in the Alps making up for lost time on the snow.

What heartens her this year is that she heads into the final days of the Olympic cycle in better shape than ever. Eight years ago, she broke eight bones in her foot in a publicity event that hampered her preparations for Turin, where she finished 15th.

Four years later, her challenge in Vancouver was undermined by the bankrupty of her governing body, and she placed eighth.

“Turin was my first Games and I was really nervous and going into Vancouver I felt a bit more confident but still wasn’t 100 per cent,” says Gillings, who will do three of the four World Cup meets prior to the Games.

“Going into Sochi now I know what to expect. There will be girls there who don’t, so me having that experience will, hopefully, give me an advantage. It won’t be as daunting for me and I plan to capitalise on that advantage.

“Winning a medal is the target, but what’s going to happen on the day – I’m not sure really.

“No-one’s sure. The unpredictability of snowboard cross means that no-one’s sure what will happen.

“I’ve beaten all the girls at one point or another in the past few years so it’s do-able, I’ve just got to beat them all together on that one Olympic day. We’ll see what happens, but I’ll give it my all.”