It’s hard to qualify for one Olympic event — imagine trying for three. That’s probably why Torah Bright is the first ever snowboarder to do so. At the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, Bright will be competing in halfpipe, slopestyle and snowboard cross. We sat down with the athlete to talk concussions, what it’s like to shred with the boys and why the word fear isn’t in her vocabulary.
You started out as a skier. When did you first step foot on the slopes?
In Australia I lived right at the gateway to the mountain. I was two years old when I first skied. I tried snowboarding for the first time when I was 11.
Were you always interested in snowboarding?
No! I used to make fun of the snowboarders. I never thought I’d try it. But then my brother’s friend was supposed to be competing in a team school event and he got hurt, and the team couldn’t compete missing a person. Ben, my brother, said he’d take his place. So I asked my mom if I could try snowboarding as well and we ended up taking a lesson together. We worked with an instructor and then just went around the hill ourselves.
And now your brother is actually your snowboard coach, right? Do you always get along on the mountain?
We learned how to snowboard together growing up and we did local events, which eventually got us local sponsors. We used the money from that for airfares and went off for a northern winter, to Canada and Europe. We actually were headed to Europe for the Junior World Championship event there and competed in it. Then we branched off and did our own things with different sponsorships. We didn’t snowboard together again until the Torino Olympics. My brother lost his sponsor so he said he’d come help me. And it worked out. Seven years later we’re still here working together.
What sparked your interest in the halfpipe?
When I was a skier, I was a racer. With snowboarding, the freestyle effect was exciting to me. I liked finding jumps around the mountain. We had only just gotten a halfpipe. At that point I was boarding with a lot of guys — very few girls. We all boarded together on the halfpipe and learned how to do it.
How did it feel to be the first Australian snowboarder to win gold? Do you take a lot of pride in that?
It feels awesome! The Olympics is one day in four years that the whole world takes notice of, and for winter sports not being big in Australia, it’s the one day my whole country really cares about what I do. It’s a lot of pressure but to be able to come through the injuries, the pressure and to deliver what was expected of me was the best feeling.
You suffered from two concussions training for the 2010 Olympics. Was it hard to continue training and mentally get past those injuries?
I had people monitoring my progress on a day-to-day basis. I was willing to accept that I may not be competing at the Olympics. My safety was the most important thing. When I flew into Vancouver, doctors checked me out. It just so happened that everything worked out to my advantage. In a way, those injuries helped me let go of all expectations from the media, my country and myself. I went out and rode and it was my day.
Did your first fall during the Games throw you off? Were you nervous for the second run?
Falls like that happen all the time. I just brushed it off. Because I qualified first, I was the last to drop in the first round, and the order is reversed for the second run, so I dropped first. That meant there wasn’t much waiting around time. That’s the nature of the sport — it happens a lot. At the top of the mountain, I got my board on and was feeling pretty good for the second run. My brother looked over at me and said, ‘You know what you need to do.’ Having no time in between runs didn’t give me any time to psych out about the first run. It was a total benefit to me. I only had time to think, ‘Another try, let’s do it.’
How do you feel this time around?
Everything is good. I’ve had lots of great experiences with the past two Olympics. I’ve learned to manage expectations and myself. I decided to try qualifying for all three events. Slopestyle is brand new for boarding. It features jumps and is all about how you hit the combinations. Snowboard cross has been around for a while. It’s a timed, speed event. This is going to be a new and exciting journey this time around. I wanted to do all three because it’s a challenge and it is doable.
I don’t just snowboard to compete; I like to have fun. Doing all three events, I’ve been out on the mountain riding all the time, way more than I even used to. I’ve been learning new things and loving it. I want to share that. I want to give back to the sport that has given me such a good life