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2014 Winter Olympics Interviews: Snowboarder Torah Bright, Australia

Australian snowboarder Torah Bright was one of the big stories of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Heading into the Games, Bright had won championships at every level. All she needed was a gold medal to make her status as one of the best — if not the best — snowboarder in the world official. After crashing on her first run, Bright dominated her second run to win gold in the halfpipe and bring home only the fourth Winter Olympics gold medal in Australia’s history.

Bright will be back on the Australian team for the Sochi Games in February. But rather than simply try to repeat her success in Vancouver, she has set a more ambitious goal. Bright hopes to be the first person ever to qualify in halfpipe, slopestyle, and snowboard cross.

Last summer, Bright stopped by Sports Illustrated Kids’ offices to talk preparing to compete in three events, what she knows about Sochi, and her goals for the 2014 Games.

For this Olympics I read that you want to compete in slopestyle and bordercross. How does that change how you prepare?

Well, slopestyle I’m familiar with. I focused more on half-pipe in previous years because it was like the only Olympic sport I competed in or podiumed in at national events. So it’s similar training. It’s freestyle, you know. Training in pipe can help your slope style, training slope style helps pipe. So in that aspect not too much is different. The thing that’s different is border-cross (laughs). There’s a lot to kind of figure out in terms of subtleties and technique, and to actually hit the jumps and things like that, very subtle. But it takes time. And then of course there’s the race aspect. So I’ve got to have my equipment, like with the right textures on my boards, the right wax.

Then there’s tactics. You have to research, you have to know your opponents, and so that’s very different.  And as far as the physical aspect of training, it’s more or less the same. I do dry-land things, just short, intensive kind of circuit weight training, with a little bit more emphasis on upper body now. So for me, with these added events, the more time on snow the better. The stronger I am, the better. But border-cross, it’s a challenging one. It’s been a big learning curve kind of thing, but I’m happy for it. It’s awesome. (laughs)

What are some of the subtle things?

Yeah, so in the border-cross, it’s a speed event but there are bumps and little jumps and little doubles and things like that. So when there’s a bigger jump, the less time in the air the better. But on the half-pipe, and the slope style, you want bigger air. So I’m having to learn to “suck up” the jumps. And it’s such a minor difference and it’s all about timing, just like where you “pop” on the jumps. The hardest thing actually, for me, doing the border-cross for the first time, was having to memorize the courses. The first event I did I was like, “What’s next? I can’t remember!” It was a different process. For the border-cross it was crazy. (laughs) 

Are there a lot of people that compete in bordercross and half-pipe? 

I think it would be a pretty hard feat for anyone else from another country to do really, because, from Australia, there aren’t more than a couple people wanting to go for each discipline. So, say they’re from the U.S. or Norway or something, there are so many people wanting to go for all of these disciplines and they have to fight for their positions. But I’m in a spot of luxury, I guess, where if I meet the Olympic qualification criteria and my nation’s criteria, I’m going pretty much. So I don’t have to beat out anybody.

What would it mean for you to win or medal in all three?

Well, it’d have to be a Michael Phelps deal (laughs). But yeah, that would be awesome. Snowboarding has given me so much. It’s given me a life I never could’ve imagined. By being on snow and riding so many different disciplines, I’m creating a better connection to my snowboard, I’m riding more than ever, and I love snowboarding more than ever. It’s such an amazing feeling to just love it. Because with the pressures of an Olympic Games coming up, you know, I definitely felt it coming into Vancouver when I was at the top of my competitive career, winning events all over the place, and all I needed was big gold medal. I wanted it, and my nation spoke openly [about wanting it]. (laughs) It was a heavy burden. It was really heavy. And I almost took myself out, you know? I had two concussions before the games and I didn’t know whether I was going to be competing. And I got there and I was cleared, so I was like, “Let’s do this.” And I was in a place where I was able to say, “Okay, I know what I need to do. I just have to go and do it.” So I was able to just shut those expectations out and go do what I do best.

You mentioned the concussions. How can a kid who’s watching you or watching another high-impact sport, how can they stay safe?

Apart from having the right protection gear, because in snowboarding there’s a lot of really cheap helmets. People can buy them for $150 and they cost $20 to make. That’s probably great for a weekend, but if you’re doing it as a profession or more than once a year, then you should probably invest in something a little more protective for the most important part of your body.  So, the right safety equipment. And people just need to be more aware of the effects of concussions, and I think people are becoming more aware with the research that’s coming out and the impact the NFL has had in that area. Having learned it myself, if you hit your head, and I sort of take a very cautious approach to it. I don’t do anything at all until I have no symptoms. And I’m working towards where, if my heart rises and start showing symptoms, I just stop. And you try again the next day, or in a week. That’s kind of how I’ve been told to monitor myself.

Getting ready for the Olympics, is there anything you’ve learned about Russia or Sochi where you thought, “Well, that’s weird” or “that’s different?”

Well, [Russian President Vladimir] Putin has his on chalet right at the base of Rosa Khutor, where the resorts at and he’s got his own gondola out to where the events are going to be. I thought that was pretty special. 

What’s your favorite Olympic moment, in terms of growing up and watching the Olympics?

I think I’ve got two, and they’re both Australian, fancy that. (laughs) There was a downhill ski racer, Zali Steggall, and she won our first Winter Olympic medal, I believe, and it was a bronze. And that was pretty exciting because my older sister ski raced with her too, so it was like, “Yes! First Winter Olympic medal!” And the most memorable and favorite by far is Steve Bradbury in the Salt Lake Olympics. He was the speed skater who, like Apollo [Anton Ohno] and someone else, took each other out and, well took everybody out, I guess, and he just waving the flag going through (laughs). Good tactic, I say.

What do you hope kids, especially girls who want to be in sports, take away from watching you now in the Olympics?

My big thing is, whether I do it through competing or something I do after I’m done competing, I want to give back to the sport that gave me so much. And to influence other young females who just need a little push to get out there, because it’s a daunting world being a young female especially in snowboarding where it’s a male-dominated sport. I’d just like them to see the joy you can have. It’s a lifestyle. It can teach you many good things. 

torah bright 2014 winter olympics sochi
torah bright 2014 winter olympics sochi

For more coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympics and interviews with Olympians, check out Sports Illustrated Kids'Guide to the Games!

This interview was edited and condensed for clarity and space.

Photos: Bob Martin/Sports Illustrated, Al Tielemans/Sports Illustrated