Alex Fitch wins Australia's first Winter Youth Olympic Medal
Alex Fitch has made history as Australia's first ever Winter Youth Olympic medallist after pulling off a fantastic performance in the women's snowboard slopestyle final to win bronze.
"It's amazing!" Fitch said of her Innsbruck 2012 medal performance. "I'm so proud. It is so good to finally get on the podium and represent Australia."
Fitch, who was fourth in halfpipe four days ago, qualified in third for the final, after completing two solid runs to get a best score of 77.75. Slopestyle is a new event where athletes ride through a course and perform tricks on rails and off jumps. The judges score both runs and the top score counts.
As the wind picked up between qualifiers and finals, conditions at the slopestyle course closed in with light rain falling and visibility worsening.
Fitch was third-last to drop into the course and pulled off a near-flawless run. She put together a combination of well-formed easier tricks at the top with a 50-50 on the first rail and a tail grab off the first jump.
With a horde of Australian fans scattered up the sides of the course, including nearly all of the athletes who have finished competition, Fitch powered down the remaining rails and jumps to huge applause.
"It was an ideal run," Fitch said. "I got my jumps down and it felt great."
On a score of 69.75, Fitch was in third position after the first run.
With medals at stake, the 16-year-old rider from the New South Wales central coast prepared to ramp up her tricks for the second run. Unfortunately though, she couldn't perfect them as she would have liked.
Pulling a front 360 off the first jump, Fitch couldn't quite get the trick down and stick the landing which lost her speed, causing her to miss the second jump and get a score of 42.50.
"I didn't land my second run, but that's what happens. I still got a bronze medal so I am stoked!"
With the top two ladies still to ride, Fitch was in third position from her first run score - and the medal was assured.
Canadian Audrey McManiman had nothing to lose on her second run, with the top of the podium locked in following her 84.25 first run. Her second run was also impressive with a 62.75 confirm ing her as the well deserving gold medallist.
With a score of 71.75 the silver medal went to the USA's Arielle Gold, one of Fitch's good friends in the snowboarding circuit who she sometimes trains with in Colorado.
The bronze on Thursday at Kuhtai Resort, an hour west of Innsbruck, continues Australia's remarkable run of winter success.
Australia has medalled at the past five senior Winter Olympic Games.
At Lillehammer 1994 the short track relay team claimed bronze and Australia's first Winter Olympic medal. Four years later Zali Steggall won slalom bronze at Nagano. Salt Lake City in 2002 resulted in two golds with Steven Bradbury's world famous short track win and then Alisa Camplin winning aerials gold. Camplin who is the Chef de Mission here in Innsbruck then backed up for bronze at Torino 2006 and Dale Begg-Smith won moguls gold.
At Vancouver 2010 a record medal haul with Begg-Smith winning moguls silver, Lydia Lassila winning aerials gold and Torah Bright winning the halfpipe.
Bright is one of Fitch's heroes. She has also done a few dry land sessions with the New South Wales Institute of Sport squad that includes current halfpipe world champions Holly Crawford and Nate Johnstone.
It could be only two years before Fitch joins her idols on a senior Olympic Team. Slopestyle is one of the new events on the program for Sochi 2014. Alex Fitch
began snowboarding in 2004 when her parents hired her a snowboard on a family holiday. Inspired by her brothers who had been snowboarding for years, Alex took to the sport, snowboarding for a week each year until she was 13. After performing well in the Interschools tournaments, Alex then joined the Perisher Winter Sports Club in 2008 to get the opportunity to be coached.
Alex's inspiration to take her sport to the next level came originally from the 2006 Torino Olympic Winter Games and more recently, Torah's gold medal in Vancouver.
Living on the NSW Central Coast, Alex is a keen surfer and has also competed in surf lifesaving and swimming at a state level until she started exchanging the Australian summer for a Northern winter. She also does gymnastics and trampolining to help her snowboarding.
Interview with Alex FitchQuestion:
How does it feel to be Australia's first ever Winter Youth Olympic medallist?Alex Fitch
: It feels great, to be able to say I was the first ever Winter Youth Olympic Medallist means a lot to me, It was cool because myself and my fellow Central Coast team mate Sharnita Crompton had been watching the medals ceremony the day before and we had said to each other, that;s going to be us tomorrow up there. We were mucking around obviously but there was always seriousness behind it. When we both got our medals we were over the moon, I mean it's fantastic to be able to say I was the first ever medalist but it's even greater to be able to share your joy with someone from your local town who has worked just as hard as you have to get a medal. Question:
Which event did you win a medal in?Alex Fitch
: I won my medal in Slopestyle, it's actually not my strongest event but it's my favourite, I love to do it and its always the most fun in competitions. It's a series of features that you do tricks off including jumps, rails , boxes, random objects that you have to be creative on (a marine floating device in YOG). It's a fun course and the person with the most technical tricks and style wins the most points, it is not a timed race. Question:
What were the conditions like on the event day?Alex Fitch
: It started off in training just a bit overcast, which is always hard cause you need light to see the faults in the snow. It got worse by the time it was qualifying first runs. It was snowing and a little windy. The weather forecast said it was meant to be gale force winds with heavy snow the next day so they moved forward finals and put it on the same day. By the time it was time for final runs, it was snowing heavily and the wind had picked up a lot. The weather was horrible but everyone's moods stayed cheerful. Question:
Can you talk a little bit about the ceremony in the Medal Plaza at downtown Innsbruck?Alex Fitch
: The ceremony was awesome, I had to be there one and a half hours early, all the athletes plus there accompaniment stayed in a big tent out the back where we ate food and watched the ceremonies before us on a big screen. It was finally my turn so I got ready and we were told what we had to do and then led out by some ladies in traditional Austrian uniforms. I was in line first cause I was 3rd medalist, it was scary having to lead even though I had a lady helping me in front. By the time I got to my position in front of the podium I looked out in front of all the people, I saw the whole Australian team down the front in the VIP area, cheering for me and I was ecstatic to see my whole team there supporting me, I tried to look for my parents but the bright lights and so many people I couldn't spot them, I did spot a very large Australian flag waving up the back, it was them.
It was my turn first to get my medal as I stepped onto the podium, after all the medals and lots of photos, the Canadian national anthem was played and all the medallist flags were raised, it was really emotional seeing the Australian flag being raised and honouring it, I haven't been home in awhile and was getting a bit home sick, so to see our flag being raised reminded me how proud I am to be Australian. You couldn't get a smile off my face after that. Question:
Describe your training leading up to the event:Alex Fitch
: I had been training with my usual coach Ben Boyd who also got to come on the trip with me, we had been working on all my techniques and trying my new trick to perfect it. I had been doing fitness to get myself ready physically as well and I had done one or two sports psych sessions with the ski and snowboard club to help mentally. Question:
What originally inspired you to begin snowboarding?Alex Fitch
: My brothers, I always wanted to be like them and once I said I wanted to try it there was no turning back from that.
There were no young girls snowboarding on the mountain I was at and not many older ones either. I always hung out with my brothers and their friends so they thought it would be good to get me on a snowboard, probably didn't help that they got attention off girls from having there cute little 8 year old sister snowboarding. Question:
What are your hopes and goals for the rest of 2012 and 2013?Alex Fitch
: I have Jnr World championships coming up in less than a month so I really just need to buckle down and do some hard training to get ready for that, a lot of the girls from YOG are meant to be there so it will be great to see them and compete against them again. For 2013 I need to just train hard and get good results, it is the qualifying year for the Olympics after all, so I just need to do well in my comps and get new tricks. Question:
Why do you believe it is important to keep a blog (alexfitchsnowboarder.blogspot.com.au
: Well I started it in the beginning for my grandparents and all my family friends to see what I was doing because they tried to add me on Facebook and I wasn't too stoked on that. So I started it up just for them but I started getting hits from other places and it grew into something that I could show my sponsors or help me get further sponsorship, I also now have a separate Facebook page that my friend Laura made for me that's an athlete page that I post all my links of interviews on and let people know about upcoming events. The link is www.Facebook.com/Alex-Fitch Question:
How does it feel to win an Encouragement Grants for Elite Athletes aspiring for selection for 2012 London Olympics from Layne Beachley Aim for the Stars Foundation?Alex Fitch
: It is awesome to have the support from such a big foundation and to be picked out of so many talented athletes is amazing, I don't think I can really go to the London Olympics unless they have some sort of dry land snowboarding, but I mean it's great to get this grant, it means a lot to my family. Both my parents have and are working so hard to get me just to this point and I thank them for all the support they have given me over the years. What Layne has and is doing for girls around Australia is phenomenal and to be one of those girls is awesome!
Interview by Brooke Hunter
Caption: Medallists in the women's snowboard slopestyle final at the mascot ceremony at Kuhtai on 19 January 2012. (L to R) Innsbruck 2012 silver medallist Arielle Gold (USA), gold medallist Audrey McManiman (CAN) and Australian bronze medallist Alex Fitch.