Most athletes do not peak until their 20s. Snowboarders are different: youth reigns supreme.
Its household names, Chloe Kim and Shaun White, won Olympic gold medals aged 17 and 19 respectively.
Jack Coyne (USA) went viral at 11. A 2013 snowboarding video of him accumulated hundreds of thousands of views.
“It felt crazy, it just blew up,” Coyne said. “The video was a bit goofy so I ended up looking through the comments and there were a bunch of people hating on me. I just had to think ‘whatever’. But my family and friends were stoked.”
Coyne started riding aged four in his hometown of Vail. “I was pretty good at 11,” he said. “I had a few years on the books, so to then carry on and make the US team for the Youth Olympics is awesome.”
He is part of an impressive US men’s team, including Jake Canter, Dusty Henricksen and Kolman Lecroy, while two unrelated Japanese athletes with the family name Hirano are also likely to shine.
Hirano Ruka (JPN) is the current junior world champion and is already making podiums in senior World Cup events, while Hirano Kaishu (JPN) recently came fourth at the Japanese national championships. Big Air junior world championships silver medallist Kawakami Aoto (JPN) is also likely to be a contender.
In the women’s field, Ono Mitsuki (JPN) is the junior world champion, while world silver medallist Tessa Maud (USA) is an outstanding competitor.
“The US team is killing it this year,” Coyne said. “But the Japanese are going to be really competitive.”
So why do snowboarders peak so early?
“I think we start the sport young and we make progressions much faster than we used to,” Coyne added. “A lot of us also don’t have too much fear. If you grow up doing halfpipe, it’s not so bad. If I started it now I’d be way more scared because dropping into a halfpipe is scary.”
Berenice Wicki (SUI) also thinks physique play a part. “In a lot of sports you have to be super strong and build up lots of muscle, but in snowboard it’s more about learning tricks and confidence,” she said. “The sport is getting younger and younger, and the tricks are getting crazier.”
Four snowboarding disciplines will be contested at the Lausanne 2020 Winter Youth Olympic Games. Halfpipe, slopestyle and big air are at Leysin Park & Pipe, while snowboard cross takes place at Villars Winter Park.
In halfpipe, competitors descend performing a series of tricks, while slopestyle’s course is full of jumps, rails and tables. Athletes are scored for difficulty and creativity. Big air riders are judged on tricks performed after taking off a ramp, while snowboard cross is a wild race to the finish line.
Perhaps more than anywhere else at Lausanne 2020, these will be the venues to watch future stars, even if some of them are already internet sensations.
“It’s awesome that so many people around my age are progressing to the pro tournaments,” Coyne said. “I’ve done a few, and of course I think about getting to the next level. But the main thing is to keep enjoying it. The halfpipe is perfect here, and the venue is sick. Lausanne is awesome.”