As an athlete at the Youth Olympic Games, you do not expect to have to line up against the best senior athletes in your sport.
In the women’s freestyle skiing, however, the world champion is part of the field at Leysin Park & Pipe. Estonia's Kelly Sildaru, 17, won the halfpipe gold at the 2019 FIS Freestyle Ski and Snowboarding World Championships, defeating PyeongChang 2018 Olympic gold medallist Cassie Sharpe (CAN), 27.
“It’s kind of nerve-wracking, Kelly being here,” said Hanna Faulhaber (USA). “She has the best tricks, really good grabs, she spins a lot more than other people. Watching her train, you can see that she is just so good.”
Andrew Longino (CAN) is equally impressed. “It’s pretty cool that she showed up,” he said. “It’s amazing having the person who is the best in the world here, no matter her age. She’s been killing it.”
Sildaru, meanwhile, thinks that the Lausanne 2020 Winter Youth Olympic Games could be her finest moment yet. “I think the Youth Olympics is a bigger event [than the world championships] and everything is organised a bit better,” she said.
“It is maybe more important, or maybe it is just different. But it is big, for sure. Getting a medal here would rank just the same as the world championship. And the world champs are a really big event.”
Sildaru was hotly tipped for gold at PyeongChang 2018, but missed out due to injury. Is that misfortune driving her YOG ambitions?
“It wasn’t great, but I don’t think about it that much,” said Sildaru, with the relaxed demeanour familiar to many freestyle skiers. “I live comp by comp, day by day. Winning the world championship was a great moment, and I became quite well known back in Estonia. But now I’m enjoying being here in Lausanne.”
Lausanne 2020 features four freestyle skiing disciplines. Halfpipe, slopestyle and big air are at Leysin Park & Pipe, while ski cross is at Villars Winter Park.
In the halfpipe, competitors perform a series of tricks, while slopestyle’s course is full of jumps, rails and tables. Athletes are scored for difficulty and creativity. In big air, riders are judged on tricks performed after taking off a ramp, while ski cross is a race to the finish line.
As well as Sildaru, Kirsty Muir (GBR) is highly rated, while Jennie-Lee Burmansson (SWE) has also achieved senior podium finishes in slopestyle and big air. In the men’s field, Kiernan Fagan (USA) has banked top-three results in World Cup slopestyle.
All of which means that it is not going to be easy to be the standout star of slopestyle – even if you are already the world champion.