Catching up with Jenny Jones
"I didn't realize the making history part of [winning an Olympic medal] until a few days after, when everyone kept bringing it up," says Jenny Jones. It's the night before the entire UK snowboarding scene will gather in London to celebrate the 33-year-old's bronze medal with the kind of massive party she loves -- one where you'll find her owning the dance floor in the same way she owned the Sochi slopestyle course -- and we're discussing her new fame over a crackly phone line.
Jones' bronze was, incredibly, the first Winter Olympic medal ever won by a British athlete -- dating back to when the Winter Olympics first started in 1924. "For me, it wasn't about that," she says. "It was like, 'Wow, I've managed to win a medal,' and that was amazing. But I guess the fact that I am a tiny bit of British sporting history is kind of cool."
This combination of modesty and self-deprecation is typical of Jones. But the truth is that her Olympic bronze medal is a very big deal indeed. It is what has catapulted her from the cosy environs of the UK snowboarding scene into a completely different world.
There was the meeting with British Prime Minister David Cameron at 10 Downing Street, for a start.
"Yeah it's been a rollercoaster," says Jones, laughing. "I've done Jonathan Ross [the UK's answer to Letterman], and just been going from one TV show to the next. It's been really good fun, [but] I'm sure the whirlwind of the Olympics will calm down ... Obviously I will enjoy it all until then, but I'm definitely looking forward to getting back on my snowboard."
The post-podium narrative of the athlete's journey is, of course, one of the most hackneyed in sport. After all, every athlete, no matter where they started, has to travel a hell of a long way to even get close to an Olympic podium. But Jones' journey really has been particularly extraordinary.
In the UK press, much has been made of her path to Olympic glory: How she started shredding on local plastic dry slopes near her Bristol home. How she, in the Brit parlance, 'did a season' in the French Alps as a way of putting off University and, within a year, had won the 2000 British Championships.
Sponsorship came next, and for a while Jones followed the traditional path of the semi-professional British snowboarder, with seasons spent abroad punctuated by the odd contest win. But it soon became clear that she was rider with a unique talent -- one of a handful of British shreds with the ability to transcend the UK ranks and make a name for herself in the wider snowboarding scene.
In 2009 she won her first X Games Aspen slopestyle contest. A year later, she followed it up with another X Games gold in Aspen and, in 2011, yet another at X Games Tignes. This run of events that put Jones firmly in the spotlight, something she backed up with strong showings at Snowboarder Mag's Superpark sessions, podiums at the Dew Tour, wins at the Japan Open and a second on the World Open Series ranking.
And then, soon after that 2011 gold in Tignes, she was beset by injury and seemed to drop off the radar entirely.
"Unfortunately I didn't get invited to the X Games again so I wasn't able to compete," Jones explains. "I was invited to the Dew Tour ... [but wasn't] able to do those as it just unfortunately timed with when I was injured. What happens is: If you can't get in to the Dew Tour then you can't get a good result to then get invited to other contests."
Jones' disappearance from the elite-level snowboard contest scene took her out of the running when pre-Olympic speculation (in press outside of the UK, anyway) about who would and wouldn't win medals started to ramp up. Then, in December, a severe concussion sustained in a pre-season training accident looked like it might keep her on the sidelines entirely.
"I wasn't even sure I'd be able to snowboard properly again," says Jones. "Then, as I started to improve I realized that ... I could improve before the selection for the [Olympic] team. So I was just really focusing on that job at hand, to get back on the snow and compete in the U.S. Grand Prix, because if I could compete in that I could prove to the governing body, the BOA [British Olympic Association], that I was fit and competitive still."
Wondering if she was even going to make the Games probably helped Jones more than anything when it came to actually competing in Sochi, she says. For one thing, her lowered expectations meant that, once she got to the Games, and qualified for the final, the pressure was off.
"I actually found the semi-finals more nerve-racking," says Jones. "Once I got to the finals, obviously I got my game head back on, but there was a lot less nerves as I started to enjoy myself a lot more."
Standing in the starting gate, waiting to take her final Olympic run, Jones had to make a decision: Go for a frontside 900 or stick with a 7 and make sure to land it clean. Her decision, as well as her performance, is likely what made the difference between her making the podium or watching someone else stand in the bronze-medal spot.
"I watched the men the day before," says Jones, "And you could see that people were getting marked down for even a hand down, regardless of the difficulty of the tricks. ... To be honest I expected to be bumped down when Sina Candrian came after me and did a 1080 -- the first girl to ever land that! It was brilliant. She deserves a lot of credit for that. I thought, 'Ah well, fair play. She deserves it.' And when the scores came up ... I couldn't believe it.
"It sounds a bit silly ... but when I was up on the podium I felt very proud to have done something for my country. It is an amazing experience."
And if her social calendar is any indication, her country has reciprocal feelings for their new winter star. But after you've been invited to hang out with the Prime Minister, and appear on every major TV show with your Olympic medal hanging around your neck, what achievement could there possibly be left to accomplish.
"Hopefully a cover of Whitelines! I've never had one and it's something I've always wanted. And of course, I'd love to do the X Games again."
After the party, of course.