A Belgian with big plans for PyeongChang 2018
One of the world’s leading slopestyle and Big Air specialists, Seppe Smits has overcome the disadvantage of being born in the relatively flat lands of Belgium to become a two-time world champion and a genuine contender for double gold at PyeongChang 2018.
Lowlander with high ambitions
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 it was here that Seppe Smits grew up and developed a passion for acrobatics of all types on the trampoline and the bicycle.
Forever looking to push the limits, his first contact with the snow came on a family holiday in the Alps, where the youngster discovered a natural talent on the slopes and was inspired to hone his skills in the local ski dome once he returned home.
Ruling the world
Smits made his international breakthrough in the halfpipe, Big Air and slopestyle events in the Europa Cup. He then went on to impress as a 16-year-old in the 2007 World Cup and on the professional circuit, starring on the Ticket To Ride Tour and at the Winter X Games.
His best results have come in Big Air, an event in which he has shown his gift for hanging in the air and pulling off amazing tricks. He has also excelled in slopestyle, an event that the IOC added to the Sochi 2014 programme in 2011. That same year the gravity-defying Belgian rider won the world title in La Molina (ESP), 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 following year saw him pick up an FIS Big Air crystal globe and become the first Belgian to win an X Games medal in Aspen, when he finished third in the slopestyle.
Empty-handed in Sochi
Looking ahead to the 2013/14 season, Smits observed: “Win the X Games and you become a rock star. Win the Games and you become a legend.” However, his hopes for legendary status, as slopestyle made its Olympic debut at Sochi 2014, did not quite go to plan. While he made history as the first Belgian snowboarder to compete at the Winter Games, he could only finish fifth in his heat, missing out on a direct place in the 12-man final by 0.25 points. He then came fifth again in the semi-final, by the same margin, finishing in 13th place overall.
Big Air goes Olympic
Armed with his formidable repertoire of Cab 1440s (Smits is one of the few able to execute the trick) and double and triples corks, the Belgian has continued to star on the USA and World Cup circuits, in both slopestyle and Big Air, which was admitted to the Olympic programme for PyeongChang 2018.
He laid down a marker for the next Winter Games by taking second place in the slopestyle behind the USA’s Brock Crouch at the pre-Olympic test event in February 2016. Later that year he earned another World Cup runners-up slot, this time in the Big Air in Milan, behind Norway’s Marcus Cleveland.
Gold in Sierra Nevada
After picking up a World Cup win in the slopestyle in Seiser Alm (ITA) in January 2017, Smits went on to become the event’s first double world champion that March in Sierra Nevada (ESP).
Though a mistake on the first rail condemned him to a poor first run, he atoned on his second descent, pulling off a string of perfectly executed tricks to score 91.40 and finish well clear of Switzerland’s Nicolas Huber and the USA’s Chris Corning.
“It's crazy. I didn't expect it,” said the Belgian afterwards. “I was trying to put a clean run together. It probably wasn't the hardest run we have seen today but I managed to bring it down pretty clean after I was struggling a bit in my first run on the first rail. When I got this one in my second one I was like, ‘OK. Get it now’.”Smits is sure to be a real contender in both his events at PyeongChang 2018, where he will aim to win Belgium’s first ever Olympic medal on snow and the country’s first gold at the Winter Games since Micheline Lannoy and Pierre Baugniet in pair skating at St Moritz 1948.