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James Woods, steel city’s slopestyle supremo

Team GB's James Woods aims for Sochi 2014
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29/01/2014

Every one of Great Britain’s medals at the Olympic Winter Games to date has come on the ice. Freestyle skier James Woods plans to change that when his discipline, slopestyle makes its Olympic debut in Sochi. The winner of the 2012-2013 FIS Slopestyle World Cup represents Team GB’s hottest prospect of a maiden triumph on the snow in decades.

The sight of James Woods in full flight on the slopestyle course is always an exhilarating experience. In recent years, the freestyle skiing world has grown used to marvelling at the young Englishman’s seemingly effortless ability to pull off extraordinary tricks with ever increasing complexity, beauty, precision and height. The 22-year old British champion also cuts a unique figure on the slopes, thanks in large measure to his trademark ‘asymmetric’ hairstyle, which is long on one side and shaved on the other, revealing a British flag emblazoned above his ear.

Woods hails from Sheffield, the northern city once best known as the heart of the British steel industry, and not exactly a hotbed of winter sports. So exactly how did he manage to become the one of the world’s best slopestyle skiers? He was helped by the fact that, until recently, Sheffield boasted its own open-air ski complex, complete with artificial pistes made of Snowflex. “I was 10 years old when my parents took me to the Sheffield Ski Village,” recalls “Woodsy”. “I’d never skied before, never even been told about it – nobody in my family skied. I was very captivated watching the skiers. I loved the control. I worked very hard and picked it up very easily, always pushing myself and going faster and faster! I’ve always been a bit of a dreamer in setting myself big goals. My goal has always been to be the best I can be. I wanted to get the opportunity to show everyone what I can do.”

From Sheffield to Sochi

Day after day at the Sheffield Ski Village, Woods put himself through his paces, honing his technique. The hard work soon paid off. By 16 the talented teenager had made his World Cup debut in the halfpipe, before converting to slopestyle when it was introduced onto the FIS World Circuit in the 2011-2012 season. From that point on Woodsy was in his element. He claimed a maiden win in Ushuaia (Argentina) in September 2012, and by the end of the season had won the crystal globe. In March 2013 he added a silver medal at the World Championships in Voss-Myrkdalen (Norway). These were historic landmarks for British skiing, and Woodsy still pinches himself when he contemplates what he has achieved.

“It’s been crazy. I’m just really happy to be doing what I want to do, which is a dream come true,” he enthuses. “To think that people are happy with what I’ve been doing, it’s a treasure. To make just one person happy or even to inspire them is an achievement.”

Woods admits that playing a part of his sport’s Olympic baptism in Russia will be a huge buzz. “Slopestyle has only just started, it’s only about 20 years old since twin-tipped skis were introduced,” he explains. “Since then it’s just gone through the roof. We’ve always pushed to be the best we can be, but to see the sport now included in the Olympic Games is mindblowing. It’s going to be wicked. I hope everyone enjoys what we do. We’re obviously going to be showcasing slopestyle to the best of our abilities.”

Woods made a point of going to London 2012 to soak up the Olympic vibe, an experience that increased his determination to make his mark in Sochi. “At London 2012, I saw how sport brings a whole nation together. It was so warming to see the United Kingdom happy like that. If I can manage to achieve just a percent of that, I’ll be pleased.”

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