After winning two silver medals at the Winter Youth Olympic Games (YOG) Innsbruck 2012, US snowboarder Arielle Gold went on to win a world title in 2013 and was selected for the US team at the Olympic Winter Games Sochi 2014. An injury on the eve of competition robbed her of the chance to compete in Russia, but she returned four years later at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 to win halfpipe bronze behind fellow YOG graduate Chloe Kim. Here, Arielle reflects on her experiences at the Games and how what she learnt at the YOG helped prepare her for the Olympic stage.
This year has been challenging for many athletes. How has the pandemic affected you?
It's definitely been a challenge. I would say just mentally, I think spending so much time at home, especially for me being someone who is so accustomed to being on the road all the time, that's been definitely a change. But there's definitely been benefits too. I've been able to focus on my schoolwork and just take good care of myself and exercise a lot and just try to prepare for the season as much as possible in any other ways that I can just not on snow.
Has it been difficult to prepare when there is still so much uncertainty about whether events can be held or not?
I would definitely say so. I think, from most of my team-mates and people that I've talked to just in terms of approaching this season, they are just trying to focus on being prepared, and either way it never hurts to be training even if it ends up that we don't have a whole lot of events this season. I'm just trying to take every opportunity possible to be on snow and just focus on what we can control and try and be prepared for whenever we are able to compete.
Beyond this season, we have the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 fast approaching. Is that on your mind yet?
It's definitely something that I'm keeping on my radar. With the past Olympics, I've been aware that they're approaching, but I try not to set my sights on that one goal. I think that sometimes it can create some pretty high expectations around that specific event, and I don't want one event to define my entire season. I definitely try and prepare, and it's a good incentive to prepare that much more knowing that the Olympics are coming up, but I also try not to let that be my only reason behind training harder.
Obviously the first time we saw you on an Olympic stage was at the Winter YOG Innsbruck 2012. How do you reflect on your time at those Games?
Innsbruck was an incredible experience. At the time, I don't think I really fully understood how similar that experience would be to going to the actual Olympics, and now having done both, it's pretty incredible how much they were able to replicate the experience for younger athletes who are trying to pursue the Olympic dream. I would say it definitely prepared me for a similar feeling to what the Olympic stage would be like and gave me the opportunity to meet a lot of different people from different countries, different sports and just continued to inspire me to want to make it to the actual Olympics at some point.
Do you have any favourite memories from your time in Innsbruck?
Oh, that's tough. I would say one of my favourites was just going to the dining hall every day. The commute was beautiful because we were staying in Innsbruck. We always had a little bit of a walk just through town and that was really enjoyable, getting to see the sites throughout the city. That is something that we’re not able to do at a lot of events because we usually end up staying in more rural areas closer to the mountains. So, it was cool to be staying down in the city and have the opportunity to absorb a little more of the culture.
And presumably going home with two medals [silvers in the halfpipe and slopestyle] made it a good trip as well?
Yes, that's always a benefit, I would say! I definitely go to every contest hoping to do well, but I think that throughout my career I've tried to learn to focus less on the results and more on just enjoying the overall experience and having fun riding.
Was there anything you learnt in Innsbruck that you’ve been able to take forward with you in your career since then?
I think that, honestly, one of the biggest things was just appreciating the entire experience. Especially for the Olympics, there's so much that's unique about it that we don't really get to experience in our traditional contest season, like getting to compete alongside other athletes from different countries, but beyond that also meeting athletes from completely different sports and different walks of life. And I think that just getting to socialise with those athletes at the Youth Olympic Games gave me the confidence and the desire to really make the most out of going to the actual Olympics and trying to meet as many people as possible and just really absorb the entire experience.
Just two years after Innsbruck, you were selected for the US team for Sochi 2014, but an injury prior to the competition meant you weren’t able to compete. How do you look back on that time?
It was definitely one of the more challenging parts of my career. I would say that, with the age that I was at the time, I went into that Olympics with some pretty lofty expectations and let external expectations weigh on me a little bit too. So, I think that took a little bit of the enjoyment out of that experience for me – obviously dealing with the injury and the disappointment of that in itself, but also having experienced the pressure leading into it was a challenge. But it was also a really valuable learning experience just getting to go and see the Games and experience everything that they are. And then to be able to go back and have another opportunity in 2018 and do things differently.
How did you feel going into PyeongChang 2018?
It was a completely different feeling, especially in the time between my first and second Olympics – I had not had quite as many [good] results as I did leading into my first Olympics. So, I think the external pressure had dissipated, just because not as many people expected as much of me. Going into my first Olympics, Sports Illustrated had tagged me as a medallist and I was 17 years old and probably a little bit over-confident, but also not really prepared to handle that pressure. Having the opportunity to go back in 2018, and coming in with the approach of being more of an underdog, helped to temper my expectations and allowed me to focus on trying to ride to the best of my ability and not really get too in my head about the size of the stage.
And do you think that attitude ultimately enabled you to come away with the bronze medal?
That made a huge difference. I also spent most of that season working with a sports psychologist. I think that my strength mentally had definitely increased, making me a little bit more resilient, which ended up being really important. And having experienced the Games in the past took a little bit of the sheen off of it, so that I knew what I was expecting going into it. I was really just able to focus on going and trying to put down the best runs that I could.
What do the Olympic Games mean to you?
I try and look at the Olympics as just another event. But obviously having had the experience that I did in 2018 – that's something I will never forget. I grew up wanting to go to the Olympic Games and win an Olympic medal, so to have been able to do that obviously is incredible – and just to have that validation that all the hard work that I had put in was coming to fruition. It's been the pinnacle event of my career. I would say other events like the X Games are really important to me as well, but having seen the level of riding that people were able to do during that Olympic Games really gave me a better understanding of what the people in our sport are capable of when given the best conditions possible.