You made history in 2016, winning New Zealand’s first ever Youth Winter Olympic medals. Can you describe that achievement and how you feel about it a year on?
At the time it was hard to take it all in right in the middle of the season with everything else happening. I knew it was a big achievement but it was all the support I received back at home that really made me realise how big it was.
One year on and I can really appreciate what a great opportunity going to the Youth Olympic Games was. It was so good to have the Olympic experience early on. Now, with the qualifying for PyeongChang I feel like I really understand the processes around selection, how competitive it is and how hard it is to get a spot.
What was it like competing at the Youth Olympic Games compared to other comps?
The thing I really loved was being a part of a team and competing for New Zealand. I really enjoy team sports anyway but skiing is usually such an individual sport and you forget what it means to be part of a collective. The team feel is a massive part of the Olympics and competing for your country is a cool experience, doing it for more than just yourself. It’s also great to watch the other sports. The Olympics gives you this unique opportunity to be a competitor and a spectator.
Did you have any expectations around winning medals in Lillehammer?
Not really before the event but once I was there and training had gone well I could gauge my level against the other competitors I had the feeling that if I landed the runs I wanted I had the potential to do well.
What do you imagine it will be like to step up from competing at the Youth Olympics compared to competing at the main event in PyeongChang next year?
While the selection criteria are similar the stakes are much higher and the field of talent is even deeper. The level of competition at the qualification events is so high, it’s competitive between nations but also between teammates, everything’s really strategic and you know there’s a lot on the line for everyone.
With all the top athletes there competing at the World Cup events, do you find it intimidating as a younger athlete?
Not so much now, I’m getting used to rolling up to competition and going there to a get job done. I know it’s about focusing on own run and controlling the controllables. I was definitely a bit star struck at my first World Cups (in 2014) though! I’m more comfortable in that arena these days.
Was competing at the Olympic Games a goal of yours growing up?
Always, but not necessarily in skiing. I’m really in to sport and the Olympics are the pinnacle so I was interested in going for something. Once freeskiing was named as an Olympic sport that became my goal, especially after watching the Sochi Games. The big goal would be to go to both Winter and Summer Olympics.
So which Summer sport would you compete in?
I haven’t pinned it down yet, I guess I’ve still got a few years to decide!
What do you remember from watching the NZ team at the 2014 Games in Sochi? Did you imagine yourself there in four years’ time?
We had a big crew watching at our house and it was all pretty exciting. I remembered being really interested to see what the experience would be like with freeskiing being new to the Olympics. I was intrigued to see how the courses looked and how well the competitors did. The courses looked so good and I felt really motivated to get there (to the Olympics) myself. Four years seemed a long way off but it has come round quickly.
You’ve just been in Korea checking out the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic venue. What were your impressions?
Good facilities, friendly people and a really cool competition venue. It’s like a huge arena and it’ll be amazing next year with thousands of people there watching and cheering.
What does the next year have in store for you?
Focusing on the last couple of Olympic qualifying events and then ramping up to the World Champs in Spain in mid-March which will be my pinnacle event for the season. After that I’ll head back to Mammoth Mountain in the USA to train. The northern hemisphere season has been really busy with competitions and there hasn’t been much training time. So once the comp season is over it’ll be about learning new tricks and getting my existing ones really dialled in.
I’m looking forward to the Audi quattro Winter Games NZ at my home resort of Cardrona this winter. It’ll be close to the Olympics then so most of the top athletes will be competing and we’ll get a really good indication of where everyone’s at. It’s always nice to have the hometown advantage, being familiar with the mountain and course and sleeping in your own bed is always good!Lillehammer 2016 Olympic Winter Youth Games Finn Bilous Freestyle Skiing