Zoi Sadowski-Synnott may have stunned herself as much as the watching world by grabbing the women’s big air bronze at PyeongChang 2018 at the age of just 16, but the New Zealander has run red hot ever since. Using her shock Olympic medal as a launchpad, the snowboarder has won just about every title going in the intervening two years.
Zoi Sadowski-Synnott has spent the 2019/20 season being introduced as the world and US Open champion and an X Games gold-medal winner. They are titles which illustrate her elevated standing in the relentlessly competitive world of women’s snowboarding. But the 18-year-old is unequivocal when asked how she became so successful so young.
“PyeongChang really kickstarted it,” the New Zealander said. “It really helped me with my confidence, knowing that I could compete with all these girls I grew up watching and idolising.”
A slopestyle World Cup winner in 2017, she arrived in the Republic of Korea with that event as her focus. But after qualifying was cancelled due to high winds, a “devastated” Sadowski-Synnott fell twice in the finals and finished 13th overall.
But it was in adversity that she found her strength.
“It lit the fire for big air,” Sadowski-Synnott said. “I told myself that I couldn’t do worse and that I needed to try and enjoy the Olympic experience. It helped me get into a good head space.”
Once there, she was unstoppable. Despite having never landed a clean switchback side 900 before, the then 16-year-old chose to do precisely that for her second run and nailed it, scoring a huge 92.00 points. It gave her New Zealand’s first Winter Games medal in 26 years and briefly made her the nation’s youngest Olympic medallist of all time.
“I was so stoked, and an hour later my team-mate, Nico Porteous, came third [in the men’s freeski halfpipe] as well,” Sadowski-Synnott laughed, explaining that Porteous is eight-and-a-half months younger than her.
“After that it was non-stop celebrating. It’s a good place to celebrate. Big air was at the end of the Olympics. There were only a few events left to go so most of the people were celebrating and just enjoying themselves. It was all a blur.”
From there, things – as Sadowski-Synnott puts it – “snowballed”. Hyped at achieving a lifetime ambition at her very first attempt, she threw herself into training and immediately saw results. Less than a year after winning an Olympic bronze, she walked away from her first X Games with slopestyle gold and big air silver.
“The X Games gave me so much pleasure,” she said. “It’s always been a dream for me growing up and I never expected to do it my first time. So that was the big one and the rest, I don’t know, I was just chilling when I got to them and didn’t have any pressure on me because I was just stoked with how I was riding and how my season was going. That really helped.”
The “rest” Sadowski-Synnott refers to included the final two parts of the famed snowboard triple crown, the World Championships and the US Open. She won the slopestyle at both.
While still a teenager, she does understand that such success on the world stage has changed things for her, and not just on the snow, where she is now a target for all the other young, hungry riders.
“I am definitely aware of being an inspiration for some people I guess, although I don’t see how I can be to anyone other than little girls growing up snowboarding,” she said modestly. “But it is really important to me to show the girls coming up who will be doing what I am in a few years that girls can do it too.
“When I was growing up snowboarding, my inspiration was Christy Prior [a Sochi 2014 Winter Olympian for New Zealand]. She is such a badass and has such a good style, snowboarding and everything else. I ended up travelling and competing with her and she showed me the ropes, which was so cool, super amazing.”
Sadowski-Synnott quickly got an indication of her own new-found level of fame after her big air success in PyeongChang, when reporters pointed out a tweet from New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
Huge congratulations to Snowboarder Zoi Sadowski-Synnott for your bronze medal win!! You’ve done us so proud. #PyeongChang2018— Jacinda Ardern (@jacindaardern) February 22, 2018
“I didn’t have a Twitter account to reply or anything,” Sadowski-Synnott laughed, before revealing just how awestruck she was that such a person had found time to contact her. “She is a real inspiration, a New Zealander who is doing so well, leading the country, a female on the world stage, showing everyone how New Zealanders do it. It was really cool.”
As thoughts turn to the future, Sadowski-Synnott cannot stop herself longing for the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022.
“It is the biggest event in the world,” she said. “Instead of just training and competing with snowboarders you are with everyone – the curlers, the skeleton and bobsleigh [athletes], everyone. The coming together of all the countries is so cool.
“I collected so many pins when I was there [PyeongChang 2018], from so many places. That is one of the memories that means so much to me, talking to heaps of people from different countries.”
It helps that she has already had a taste of the 2022 big air venue, competing in the World Cup in the Chinese capital at the end of 2019.
“It is the best big air that we have ever seen,” she said. “A permanent structure in the industrial area of Beijing. The whole area was like an old coal mine or something, and there are power plants around which have been refurbished. It’s amazing, exactly like a sci-fi movie; it reminded me of Star Wars, pretty sick.”