“It sucked and I wish it didn’t happen - but I’m stronger now” says Katie Ormerod, as she looks back at her comeback from a horrific break of her heel at Pyeongchang 2018. But this story has a happy ending.
Touted as a medal contender going into the Games, the British snowboarder split her heel in two as she prepared for her Winter Olympic debut on the slopestyle course in South Korea. Just before that, she had broken her wrist in a fall - but that was small fry compared with what was to come.
Without setting her board on the start gate, Ormerod became one of the stories of the Games from a British perspective. But the injury set about a chain of events which eventually led to her becoming the country’s first World Cup title winner in snowboard slopestyle - with some bumps along the way.
The 24-year-old from Yorkshire is now better than ever, and it would take something even more mind blowing for her not to compete for a podium spot at Beijing 2022. Team GB selection will not be confirmed until close to the Games, but Ormerod is ranked third in the world, and has already met the necessary criteria.
“I wish it didn’t happen, because it was the worst timing possible and it was so painful” Ormerod told Eurosport, reflecting on her injury problems.
“Although it was really rubbish to go through that, it made my comeback season so much nicer when I went on to have the best season of my career so far by winning five World Cup podiums, my first ever yellow bib and the Crystal Globe, which I've always wanted to win.
“That would have been the best feeling ever if I hadn’t have been injured, but going through everything - the seven operations - missing the Olympics, I’m really proud I got through it and came back stronger. It really sucked and I’d rather it didn’t happen, but I’m stronger now.”
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Ormerod’s recovery was so troublesome that she started to doubt whether she would be able to snowboard again. She was in and out of the operating theatre, but surgery was not sorting the issue - until there was a breakthrough.
“I think it was very close (to ending her career), nine months into the rehab I was physically the strongest I’d ever been, lifting weights I’ve never been able to before, but I couldn’t walk without limping quite badly and I was in a lot of pain,” she said.
“I just knew if that didn’t go away, I wouldn’t be able to snowboard and it was a really scary time, but I had to be positive. I went to see so many surgeons and I needed another operation to fix it - even then we didn’t know if that would work because we couldn’t pinpoint what was causing the pain.
“It turned out the screws were sticking out into my Achilles and as soon as they came out, it fixed everything. After that, we did the rehab and I had no pain - but there was a moment where it was so scary and I didn’t know if I’d snowboard again.”
Ormerod will be one of the favourites to secure a medal, but she says just being able to call herself an ‘Olympian’ will be the most important thing, given everything she has been through.
“I’ve always felt so grateful and appreciative of being able to travel and snowboard all the time, but going through that, which was really intense with the operations and the rehab and not knowing, it makes me appreciate what I do so much more.
Being at the top of a competition starting gate, cruising around a mountain without being in pain, it feels amazing. I’ve always been driven and motivated from a really young age and I think that’s now the athlete I am today.
“I’ve always been hungry to better myself and having that personality already built in me helped me come back stronger and remain resilient throughout the rehab, because it was really intense both physically and mentally. I’m stronger than ever.”
Ormerod has a packed schedule coming up, with a World Cup in Chur, Switzerland this month, before a training break - before things really ramp up from December, right through to the Games. For now, she is learning new tricks - including the ‘Crippler’ - a halfpipe move which is starting to find its way into the slopestyle events.
“It’s basically where you ride up the pipe wall and you do sort of a backflip with frontside rotation, and you have to go as high as you can.
“Slopestyle’s getting more creative, they’re starting to add pipe features into the courses, so we are seeing more quarter pipes. It was a great opportunity to try a new trick that I’ll hopefully get to try in competition.”
As Ormerod looks ahead to her Olympic debut - four years later than originally planned - she is looking to take the sport into new territory, and a medal in Beijing is a serious possibility.
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