Izzy Atkin | How the British Skier Won Her Bronze Medal
The 19-year-old just won the UK's first ever skiing medal. Here's how she put it down...
Lead image: Sam Mellish
You could almost taste the tension in the air at the bottom of the Phoenix Park slopestyle course. Team GB’s Izzy Atkin had just put down a run that was technical, clean and stylish, putting her in bronze medal position. But there were three skiers still to drop. Three skiers who’d qualified above her, all of whom could bump her off the podium.
Up at the top of the course her coach, Pat Sharples, was a nervous wreck. “I was literally throwing up," he said afterwards. “I’d not had much breakfast, just water and bananas and it was all too much."
“I was literally throwing up," her coach Pat Sharples said. “I’d not had much breakfast, just water and bananas and it was all too much."
Johanne Killi dropped first, but didn’t make it down cleanly. Her Norwegian team mate Tirill Sjaastad Christiansen came down next, and made it to the bottom of the course but then she reverted on her final trick. Last but not least was Emma Dahlstrom, the Swedish former X Games gold medallist who’d qualified through first into the final.
“I wish it hadn't been her actually," Izzy’s dad Michael said later. “Emma Dahlstrom is such a popular girl, Izzy's always saying how nice she is and she's so supportive when other athletes do well."
When Dahlstrom did go down, there was a slightly unsporting cheer from those of us holding Union Jacks. But you could perhaps forgive us – this was history in the making. Izzy Atkin had just become the first British person ever to win an Olympic medal on a pair of skis.
“It was draining, watching all that," her father said. I’m sure everyone who stayed up to watch it in the UK would agree.
Strangely, the one person who didn’t seem overwhelmed by the pressure was Izzy herself. “I was a bit nervous," she said, “I wanted to do well, but I also just wanted to ski my best. I’m really proud of how I skied in that last run. I would have been stoked with anything, but I’m really happy I got third."
It had been one hell of a final. The top three qualifiers might have failed to put down their final runs but the field was packed with plenty of talent, and the level of skiing was super-high throughout. Mathilde Gremaud had laid down a marker early with a monster of a first run which culminated in a switch double cork 10, earning her a score of 88.00.
It was a mark that wouldn’t be surpassed until fellow Swiss skier Sarah Hoefflin came through on her final run and with a cleaner top section and a double cork 9 to finish snatching the top spot with a score of 91.20.
There were big runs too from America’s Maggie Voisin, and Canadian Yuki Tsubota, as well as some big surprises. Devin Logan, a silver medallist in Sochi and always a podium threat, fell on all three attempts.
Izzy’s team mate Katie Summerhayes had also put down a seriously impressive run, combining some of the best rail tricks of the day up top with two 540s and a 900 to finish. It wasn’t enough to bag her a podium place but was an incredible effort considering that she’d been skiing with an ankle injury all day.
Katie damaged her ligaments training on the GB Park & Pipe team’s airbag back in December, and has tweaked it several times since, including in training this morning. “I was in tears at the top," she said. Pat Sharples admitted: “We talked about her pulling out, she couldn’t even stand up today. But she wasn’t having any of it"
As well as pushing through the pain, Katie had played a blinder tactically, landing four consecutive runs through the qualifying and the final, stepping up the difficulty each time. Had she landed her final one, who knows what might have happened?
Izzy had been equally tactically astute. She fell on her first qualifying attempt, which she found “really nerve-wracking because [she] hadn’t fallen on that trick in training". But having got through, she then proceeded to lay down a safety in finals before stepping it up. A slight mistake on the rails meant it wasn’t as clean as it could have been however. Having briefly been in third place, she was swiftly pushed off “the bubble" by Maggie Voisin.
This left Izzy with a choice. Did she go for broke and try her best trick, a 1080 that wasn’t guaranteed consistent, or try and clean up her second run, and stick the 7, 9, 9 combo again?
Sharples counselled caution. “I’m more of the one that wants to go for it," Izzy said, “but that’s the great thing about Pat, he’ll reel me back in." It was the right choice.
Watching from the bottom of the course, Michael Atkin could see on the screen that his daughter had got most of the way down cleanly. “But you can't see the take-off for the last jump. We were just waiting for her to appear.
“And you’re thinking: ‘please land it, please land it, please land it."
Thankfully Izzy did, stomping the absolute shit out of it. And then that agonising wait began…