|Jan 30||(Arielle) Gold Rush|
Though there are great expectations for Arielle Gold, she tries not to have them for herself.
So when the 16-year-old snowboarder won the first elite-level halfpipe title of her career this month at the FIS Snowboard World Championships at Stoneham, Quebec, it came almost as a surprise.
“It was pretty amazing,” Gold said. “I just went there to have fun and try to put down a good run, and it worked out in my favor. I had no expectations. When that happened, I was pretty excited.”
Gold became the second-youngest winner of a halfpipe world championships title, male or female, behind China’s Jiayu Liu, who won as a slightly younger 16-year-old in 2009.
It marked a coming-out party of sorts for Gold, the reigning junior world champion and double silver medalist at the Winter Youth Olympic Games held last year in Innsbruck, Austria.
This year, she will be competing in a full schedule of major contests all over North America and Europe with the goal of taking her career to the next level.
Her attitude coming into this year is to focus on the long term, not the short term. To practice and compete hard, but not go into a season or contest expecting a certain result.
“I think it’s always been good to me to have the mindset of not having expectations, because then I’m not putting too much pressure on myself,” she said.
So coming off a fourth-place finish in her previous event, Gold was just hoping to have some great runs in Quebec and perhaps finish on the podium.
Yet she finished with a gold medal, even though the conditions that day were tough. Constant snow had left more than a foot of snow in the bottom of the pipe. So she had to scrap some tricks she had planned because she couldn’t get the speed she needed.
“I just made the most of what I had,” she said.
“It was running really slow and basically, at that point, I was just putting down a run that was clean and smooth, and that was what the judges were looking for,” she added.
Gold turned a 79.0 on her best run in the finals, outscoring Australian veteran Holly Crawford, a two-time Olympian (77.25), and Sophie Rodriguez, another two-time Olympian from France.
Gold finished qualifying in second place, zoomed to the top of the standings with her first run and then held on for the victory.
Then, this past weekend, she scored again.
Gold earned a bronze medal in snowboard superpipe at the Winter X Games in Aspen, Colo. Originally, she was an alternate for the event, but was added to the competition list when Gretchen Bleiler had to withdraw in the wake of a serious eye injury she suffered last summer.
It was a big deal for Gold to be able to participate in an event she had gone to watch as a spectator last year.
“I just can’t believe I’m sitting here,” Gold told reporters after her performance Saturday. “There were rumors going around I might get in, but I found out just a couple of days ago.”
Added Gold, who also was excited to compete so close to her home: “Riding this pipe, under the lights, with the crowd — all of it is an amazing vibe.”
Now, with a big dose of momentum from Quebec and Aspen, Gold will continue an intense schedule that will include stops in Park City, Utah, for the U.S. Grand Prix, Switzerland for the Burton European Open and then a World Cup event at Sochi in Russia, the site for the 2014 Olympic Winter Games.
She will get a chance to see a venue where she’d definitely like to compete nearly a year from now, but she’s not going to get ahead of herself.
“It’s always in the back of my head,” she said about getting a chance to compete for the United States in the Winter Games. “But I’m just trying to focus on each individual contest rather than thinking that far ahead in the future. I’m just focusing on the present and doing the best I can.”
She believes that taking on a busy schedule and competing against the best in the world this year — including the likes of 2006 Olympic halfpipe champ Hannah Teter and ’06 Olympic silver medalist and four-time Winter X Games champion Bleiler — will raise her own game.
“I like competing with those types of girls,” says Gold, who added that they also have been very welcoming to her. “It’s really good motivation getting to watch them ride and just going huge and doing big tricks. It’s always been good motivation for me, so I’ve loved being put in that situation.”
Gold says improvements seem to come “in waves.” The victory in Quebec and her performance at Aspen was part of one such spell, she said, but she knows it’s a series of ups and down.
“It’s always riding and falling,” she said.
A big step in her growth came in 2012, when she took silver medals in both the halfpipe and slopestyle events at the first Winter Youth Olympic Games in Austria. The whole experience, she said, was like no other.
“It was really cool to get to go and stay not only with athletes in my sport, but athletes from other winter sports,” she said. “It was cool getting to meet all of them and learning about their sports, because you don’t really see anything from other sports (when competing in snowboard) … luge and things like that that I didn’t know anything about.”
Gold called it a “mellower version of the Olympic Games.”
“I think if it was the actual Olympics I probably would have been a bit more nervous,” she said.
Gold, a junior in high school, balances her schoolwork (in online courses) with a heavy travel schedule, which she says can be difficult at times. But she loves traveling. She says she now gets restless if she’s in one place for too long now. Often she’s accompanied by her parents to contests in the United States, and by her brother Taylor, 19, also a top snowboarder, on most trips.
As she embarks on her heavy travel and competition schedule — with the possibility of earning a spot on the U.S. snowboard team for Sochi — Gold does what she always does.
She puts the expectations aside.
“I always think to myself, you’ve got plenty of time,” she says. “If this contest doesn’t work out, there’s always the next one.”