Katie Ormerod taking inspiration from Simone Biles on road to Olympic redemption

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Katie Ormerod is among the Team GB stars targeting glory in Beijing (Lynne Cameron/PA) (PA Archive)
Katie Ormerod is among the Team GB stars targeting glory in Beijing (Lynne Cameron/PA) (PA Archive)

As Simone Biles blinked bravely into the flashbulbs and spoke about her struggles in Tokyo, half a world away Katie Ormerod could certainly empathise.

Biles, the greatest gymnast of her generation, tearfully admitted to not knowing her up from her down, underlining why the Olympics are often more about the struggle than the triumph. Gymnast turned snowboarder Ormerod, who also defies gravity for a living, knew just how she felt.

After learning to ski as a four-year-old, Ormerod - who stands just 4ft 9in in her ski boots - took delivery of her first snowboard one year later and has been careering downhill quickly since. At 16 she became the youngest female to land the ‘backside double-cork 1080’ but she missed selection for the Sochi Olympics after an untimely knee surgery on a torn lateral meniscus ruined her chances.

Four years later she arrived in PyeongChang as one of Team GB’s top medal hopes, only to break her wrist and then her heel on the eve of the competition. Ormerod winces as she recalls the memory of the two hours it took to remove her ski boot.

Those damned Olympic Gods, from Apollo to Zeus, they must have taken a tremendous dislike to one of the most likeable athletes around.

“I’ve so much respect for Simone in the way she spoke about her struggles, I think all athletes just appreciated her talking the way she did, it gave people a really good glimpse into what our lives are really like,” said Ormerod, now 24.

“Most athletes don’t speak up, so to see her to do it was amazing. She’s my favourite athlete and the best in the world. To see what she went through was really hard to watch, you could tell she was struggling, but her resilience to win that bronze medal on the beam was just inspiring.”

Katie Ormerod in actin at the 2021 FIS Snowboard and Freeski World Championship (Getty Images)
Katie Ormerod in actin at the 2021 FIS Snowboard and Freeski World Championship (Getty Images)

The story of the Olympics is full of redemption tales and comeback stories and Ormerod’s would be worth the telling as she heads to Beijing.

After her injury in 2018 she required seven operations, including a graft of pig skin, and admitted at times her focus was just on walking without a limp rather than returning to the snow.

Ormerod’s dad can remember the exact moment he knew his daughter would be an Olympian – just four, she flung herself out of a cardboard box and broke her nose and it seems she’s spent in A&E ever since.

Injuries, unsurprisingly, come with job description, a fractured shoulder, two broken arms, snapped anterior cruciate ligament and a broken back. They don’t call this an extreme sport without good reason.

“This feels way more special qualifying this time around because of what’s happened in the past,” added Ormerod.

“Going to PyeongChang, breaking my heel and having to spend a full year in rehab is not what I dreamed from my Olympic debut. It’s been a really difficult journey and I’ve worked extremely hard to be in a position to confidently go into my second Games.

“I’ve been snowboarding for as long as I can remember and I just love this sport but nine months into the rehab I was physically strong but still walking with a limp, that’s when I got really scared. I just wanted to do whatever it took to get back riding. I wanted to snowboard again but I also just wanted to walk without pain.

“I’m proud of how hard I’ve worked. That time being injured was very challenging, both mentally and physically. There were seven operations and I had to seize on the little wins and just get through it, I knew it could have been career ending but I was determined not to think about it.

“Since I’ve had the most successful season of my career and made my second Games team, I’m so proud I stuck with it and showed that resilience and determination. I hope this story inspires others to keep following their dreams. I just didn’t want to let the broken heel stop me or hold me back.”

British team coaches talk not about Ormerod’s medal potential - two years ago she became the first Brit to win an overall World Cup snowboard title - but her ferocious work ethic and the intensity she brings to her preparation and training.

Ormerod will compete in both the Slopestyle and Big Air events in Beijing - the latter involves pulling off tricks as you career down a course pitted with obstacles - Big Air will see the diminutive Brit launch herself off a 60m ramp at 50mph, spinning and twisting all the way to a hopefully soft landing.

British snowboarder Jenny Jones won Slopestyle bronze in Sochi, Team GB’s first medal on snow, but Ormerod wants to make her own piece of history by going even better.

The days of Brits being a snow joke are long gone - this weekend Ormerod cheered from Halifax as Dave Ryding, from across the Pennines in Lancashire, won the nation’s first ever alpine skiing World Cup gold in Kitzbuhel.

“I was born and raised in West Yorkshire and it’s still home. I started snowboarding on a plastic dry slope like Dave, you don’t have to come from the Alps to make it in this sport but we do need more facilities,” she added.

“Mum and dad put me into gymnastics when I was four because I was just going mental in the house, flying off things.

“I started snowboarding at five and I used to do that and gymnastics five nights a week. It was sport, sport, sport, I loved being active.

“It got to the point where I could have chosen either sport but I chose snowboarding while I still trained in gymnastics because I loved the freedom and creativity it gave me.

“Some people back home still don’t really get what I do, I have to show them videos – it’s a lot easier than telling people I fly off jumps the size of houses!”

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