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When he steps out at Sochi in 2014 Seppe Smits will become the first ever Belgian snowboarder to compete at the Olympic Games. Despite being born in a country with no mountains, he has doggedly pursued his dream to become one of his sport’s best performers and is a genuine medal prospect in slopestyle, having won the world title in 2011.
The Belgian city of Antwerp is not the kind of place where you would expect one of the world’s best snowboarders to hail from. Yet that is exactly where Seppe Smits grew up and where he developed his passion for acrobatics of all types on the trampoline and the bicycle. Forever looking to push the limits, he dreamed of making it big one day.
His first contact with the snow came on a family holiday in the Alps. The long drive down from Belgian proved worth it as the youngster excelled on the slopes before going back to his native Antwerp to hone his talent in the ski dome in the outskirts of the city.
Accompanied by his mother Niek Ducro, Smits discussed his love for his sport as part of IOC partner Procter & Gamble’s “Thank You, Mom” campaign: “People often say that you want the one thing that you can’t do,” he commented. Undeterred by the odds, he was determined to prove them wrong.
Top of the world
Smits made his international breakthrough in the halfpipe, Big Air and slopestyle events in the Europa Cup before going on to impress as a 16-year-old at the 2007 World Cup and on the profes-sional circuit, starring on the Ticket To Ride Tour and at the X-Games. The young Belgian rider has obtained his best results in Big Air, an event in which he has shown his gift for hanging in the air and pulling off amazing tricks.
Another forte is slopestyle, which the IOC added to the Sochi 2014 programme in 2011, the year in which the gravity-defying Belgian won the world title in La Molina in the Spanish Pyrenees, topping the podium from Sweden’s Miklas Mattsson and Finland’s Ville Paumola thanks to some typically polished tricks. Then in November 2012 he enjoyed one of his proudest moments as he triumphed in a World Cup event on a purpose-built jump in front of thousands of his fans in Antwerp.
The intrepid Belgian set himself two objectives for the 2013/14 season: “The Olympic Games and the X-Games, where the level of competition is more or less the same. Win the X-Games and you become a rock star. Win the Games and you become a legend.”
He believes he has a genuine chance of getting in among the medals in Sochi. “The podium is a possibility,” he says. “I’ve got a good technical range and if I can break out my very best tricks, then anything can happen. That said, if the others all have their very best day too, then it will be tough. We’ll find out soon enough.”
Having already blazed a unique trail in his home country, the ambitious 22-year-old is ready to take his career to the next level. But no matter how he fares in Sochi, he will be guaranteed a place in the history books as the first Belgian snowboarder to compete in the Olympic Games, an achieve-ment that will give him much satisfaction: “That’s one thing you’re always looking to do as an ath-lete: do something that no one else has ever done.”