Winter Olympics: Sheffield’s James Woods aims for a golden bloom on the slopes of Beijing

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The ski park outside Beijing where he will play his third Olympics is “rad”.

The rails on the slopestyle course where he will try to do at least one better than his fourth place at the PyeongChang Games four years ago are “rad”.

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And his overall feeling on the eve of his final Olympic challenge is…you guessed it, “pretty great”; short for radical for the uninitiated.

Sheffield’s James Woods trains at Genting Snow Park A&M Stadium ahead of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics. Photo: Andrew Milligan/PA

James Woods is everything you would expect from an extreme sports addict. long hair, hoarse voice, cool vocabulary.

So free-spirited that ahead of the Winter Olympics and X Games last month, Woods went surfing and spearfishing in Nicaragua.

But behind the long hair and shades lies a steely determination, rather befitting a young man whose journey to extreme sports stardom began on the dry ski slopes of Steel City.

“The only reason I compete is to win,” says the 30-year-old from Sheffield, who also finished fifth on his Olympic debut in Sochi eight years ago.

James Woods celebrates after winning the Men’s Slopestyle Skiing Final at the FIS Freestyle Skiing World Championships in February 2019 in Park City, Utah. Photo: Tom Pennington/Getty Images

“That’s what I’m here for. There’s no sugar coating there.

There have been plenty of victories over the years for the freestyle skier, including at the World Championships and the X Games.

The Olympics would crown them all.

“It’s not like my life wouldn’t be complete without a medal,” he said. “But there is no tomorrow after any event, you have to give 100%.

James Woods competes in the men’s freestyle skiing slopestyle aerial qualification at the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics Photo: Ian MacNicol/Getty Images.

“If not; one, why are you here and two, if you’re having a hard time engaging in this game, it’s probably not going to be good for you.

Commitment is never something Woods has struggled with. From the first time he set foot on the dry ski slopes of Sheffield, he was hooked.

“There was a free ski and snowboard lesson in the paper,” he begins. “I was 10, did it in the summer on the hottest day of the year, it was ridiculous, I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

“I was a fast and clever runner, I could do a lot of sports. It’s not hard to start doing these things, the fun comes pretty quickly, especially when you’re a kid.

James Woods trains at Genting Snow Park A&M Stadium ahead of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics. Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA

“I don’t come from a family of skiers, I had no idea about snow and the mountains, what attracted me to the culture of sport and extreme sports was the people.

“Amazing people, passionate people who really loved what they were doing and really wanted something, not necessarily competitions, but a deep love for what they were doing, and it hit me right in the face when I was 10. I was addicted to it and the people around it.

Every week he returned to the rails and the half-pipes to try and top the trick he had pulled off the previous visit. Every week has become every day.

“The trajectory never wavered because the passion never stopped,” says Woods, the icon of the “Fridge Kids,” a gang of adrenaline junkies including Katie Summerhayes, herself a three-time Olympian at Beijing, who met on the dry ski slopes. in Sheffield.

“Your improvement in skiing is quite tangible. You get addicted to the next accomplishment, the next lap you’re going to land.

“I realized that I was comfortable in this discomfort.”

Sheffield’s James Woods pictured during the men’s freestyle skiing slopestyle final at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018. Photo: Nils Petter Nilsson/Getty Images

Sponsors quickly came calling and by his late teens Woods was already traveling the world competing, winning, trying new tricks.

“I actually find it hard to call it a sport,” he says, “it’s actually an art form to me. This is my passion.”

But skiing is also his job, and that brings pressure, especially at the Olympics, the biggest showcase for most sports.

“We’ve put everything into skiing for the longest time, it’s absolutely my passion but it’s also my job.

“I went through these periods where I had ups and downs, because it’s my job. I put all these efforts into it, it is in moments like this, at the Olympics, that we reap the benefits.

“People are interested in the sport, they are intrigued by what you do. It’s not that I wouldn’t do this if people weren’t interested, but it’s cool to look around once in a while and be like “holy cow, it’s happening”.

Having accomplished so much outside of Olympic competition, it was expected in the past that Woods would deliver on the bigger stage.

In Sochi he was hampered by injury and finished fifth in the slopestyle final. He moved up one place in PyeongChang.

Now 30, and although his body is “the best we’ve felt in 20 years”, as he puts it, the expectation has given way to the romantic notion of a perfect career ending. with a medal in Beijing.

“There is always pressure, but there is no external pressure on me that is greater than the pressure I put on myself,” he says.

“I like competition, I like free skiing, it’s everything in my life, I owe it everything.

“Pressure is what makes you successful, it’s how you handle it. I want to go out there and give my best, so there will definitely be pressure.

He has two chances to get on the podium in Beijing, the Big Air on Monday and Wednesday followed by the slopestyle the following Monday and Tuesday.

Big Air is a jump from a 60ft ramp with a number of tricks to impress the judges, while slopestyle sees competitors hurtling down a course full of rails and jumps.

“Bigger is better for me, and that’s big,” Woods says of his first impressions on the slopestyle course. “First of all, the terrain is very steep, which means there is a lot of speed.

“The landings are long and wide which gives you more fun to play.

“Looks great, the rails are big so I’d like to think it’s playing in my hands.

“Ours is a subjective sport,” he says of the judging. “You really have to go out there and do your best and see what other people think.

“Sometimes you have to swallow your pride, sometimes you come out on top.”

If he does, Woods will become the first Yorkshireman to win a Winter Olympics medal, incomprehensible to the 10-year-old on dry ski slopes on a hot summer day.

“Somebody asked me the other day, do you still feel that connection to Sheffield and I was like ‘oh my God, of course I do,'” he beams.

“Although I’m not always here, I’m still representing Sheffield and the UK. In fact, I feel very connected.

“I don’t spend a lot of time there because I’m skiing all the time, it’s a side effect of being determined and chasing your goals.

“Especially when people think of you as representing a place. It is the house. You can’t do without it.

It would be pretty “awesome” if after all these years, after all these young people on the dry ski slopes of Sheffield whom he inspired to be better, James Woods got the Olympic medal his story deserves.

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