Torah's Bright future
For Australian snowboarder Torah Bright, the road to Sochi is actually made up of three divergent paths. Bright is the only snowboarder, male or female, who will compete for medals in halfpipe (for which she's the defending Olympic gold medalist), snowboardcross and the Olympic debut of slopestyle.
"I won't lie: It's really hectic," Bright says. "But it's been an enjoyable adventure so far. If it wasn't, I wouldn't be able to do it. But I'm loving it, and I think the thing I love most is that I'm doing my own thing and doing it the way I want to do it. It's all snowboarding, and I love it."
Bright admits her three-pronged attack has come with some extra baggage, both literally and figuratively. She packed 14 snowboards for Sochi before leaving her home in Park City, Utah, to make absolutely sure she's prepared for all three disciplines in a wide range of variable snow conditions.
It's a lesson she had reinforced in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, when the halfpipe conditions at the Cypress Mountain venue were less than ideal, and having the right board with the right wax and proper tuning might have meant the difference between her winning gold or silver. Bright knows the snow at the snowboard event venues in Russia could be even less predictable, and she says she's learned to control the things she can control and let go of the rest.
Letting go has become a Bright trademark. Since she won gold in Vancouver, it has been Kelly Clark, not Bright, who has gone on to win just about every major women's halfpipe event over the past four years. Meanwhile, Bright, took "a bit of hiatus" from competition, recuperating from several concussions and getting back to snowboarding for the love of it.
"For a while there I just wanted to go snowboarding," says Bright, 27. "It was important to remind myself that contests aren't everything -- or even anything, necessarily."
Now that she's back competing, Bright says she's all-in. Medals are less important to her than riding her best, progressing women's snowboarding, traveling with her friends and having a good time, but she says taking that approach is what has put her on podiums in the past.
"It's never been about winning for me," Bright says. "I'm a snowboarder and not a competitor. I want to be the best snowboarder I can be, and that's always been my goal."
Bright kicked off the competition season by besting Clark to win the halfpipe competition at the Dew Tour in Breckenridge, Colo., in December. Although the win proved that her pipe skills are still razor-sharp, both Bright and Clark have waved off talk of that win pointing to any current or future rivalry between the two.
"Torah's one of my favorite snowboarders, and I'm looking forward to seeing her ride in Sochi," Clark says. "She had one of the best runs I've ever seen her do at the Dew Tour, and it's always inspirational to see one of your friends stepping it up."
For Bright, the feeling is mutual.
"Kelly Clark has been on top of the game for so long," Bright says. "I remember looking up to her when I was 12 years old. She's always been one of the ones at the front of the sport."
That said, the matchup between Clark, who has become the most dominant competitor in women's snowboarding while Bright has been on competitive hiatus, and the defending 2010 Olympic gold medalist could make for a spectacular showdown in Sochi. Not that Bright is concerned with such things.
"When they announced they were bringing slopestyle to the Olympics, I knew I wanted to be a part of it. That immediately became more important than winning another halfpipe medal," Bright says. "And once I was going for two, I thought: Why not three? It seemed less crazy at the time."
Being the best snowboarder she can be, however, has proved especially humbling in snowboardcross, a discipline she added to her repertoire just one year ago.
In February 2013, Bright finished 26th in her first World Cup snowboardcross event at Canada's Blue Mountain and 26th at the World Cup Olympic test event in Sochi. It's been a steady climb to better finishes ever since.
In the past few months, Bright has started proving she could actually be a contender in Sochi. She finished 13th at the FIS World Cup Race at Vallnord-Arcalís, Andorra, in January, and that did the trick: The Australian team officially announced that she'll compete in all three disciplines in Sochi.
"A year ago I started this journey, daring myself to qualify for three snowboard events in the Olympics," Bright said in a statement after the announcement. "This is an Olympic journey done my way. More than anything, it's about sharing the sport I love with the world. This has been a journey of exploring what is possible for me on my snowboard and challenging myself like never before. Today I can say that I realized that goal."
Fortunately, Bright's nationality has given her an advantage going into the season: While her American friends have been busy battling it out for the U.S. team spots in the Grand Prix series, Bright had already secured her spot on the Australian halfpipe and slopestyle teams. This allowed her to focus on meeting the minimum FIS and IOC requirements to compete in snowboardcross.
"While all my friends were practicing in the pipe for X Games Aspen 2013, I was rushing off to Copper Mountain to race in my first FIS NorAM Cup, just to earn the bare minimum FIS points I needed to even be allowed to ride in the World Cup events needed to be eligible for Sochi," she says. "I showed up with my halfpipe board, not knowing any better and not having really given it much thought, and could hear the 16-year-old girls in the lineup laughing at me. I was laughing at myself right along with them."
Still, she finished fourth and second on consecutive days of NorAm racing, which seemed a promising enough start for her to feel comfortable mentioning her Olympic trifecta plans to Gretchen Bleiler in an on-air chat during coverage of X Games Aspen 2013 later that week.
"I had to pull out of X Games, so I was doing a little commentating, and I was like, 'Give me something to talk about on TV,'" Bleiler recalls. "And Torah says, 'Well, I just decided to go for the triple threat.' It's so hard to qualify for the Olympics, and to be attempting what she's attempting is insane. I want to see it. I want to see her get all three. Then the big story won't be Shaun White doing two, it will be Torah doing all three!"
Despite her absence from competition the past few years, Bright is still a favorite to podium in the halfpipe event in Sochi. Slopestyle and snowboardcross podiums are long shots. For Bright, that's besides the point. But, then again, you never know.
"One thing I've learned is you can never count Torah out," says Olympian Elena Hight, who competed against Bright in Vancouver and says she can't help but root for her trifecta mission. "She's the best all-around female snowboarder out there, and I won't be entirely surprised if she proves it in Sochi."
Added Bleiler, "I'm so grateful to have Torah Bright in women's snowboarding because she's always just done her own thing and just pushed herself in this totally unique way that's really helped round out all of women's snowboarding. She's out there not to just win and get these results and awards ... but because she loves to snowboard and she loves to push herself and mix it up."
Bright says she's less concerned with winning a stack of medals than with setting an example for younger riders who might be watching.
"Seeing Elena land the first double in the pipe at X Games and now seeing Chloe Kim and these other young girls coming up quick is truly inspiring to me," Bright says. "They're just generationally better. They're going to be better than us, and soon. It might be this year, it might be next year, it might four years down the line for the next Olympics, but they're coming up fast.
"I'd love it if I could help inspire some of them to try at it from some different angles and see that snowboarding is bigger than halfpipe, slopestyle, boardercross and all these divisions. Snowboarding, if you're doing it right, is bigger than any competition. It's bigger than the Olympics."