Four years after winning a surprise gold medal at the Nagano Winter Olympics, Swiss snowboarder Gian Simmen says he's ready to defend his title in Salt Lake City.This content was published on January 29, 2002 - 23:26
"I've kept it pretty serious since Nagano," Simmen told swissinfo, "and I ended last season as world champion. So now I want to try my luck again. I think I can still keep up with the current standard in half-pipe riding."
In 1998, Simmen was a virtual unknown in the world of international snowboarding. Having spent the previous summer serving in the Swiss army, he only qualified for an Olympic place at the last minute.
Competing not only against his opponents but also against a heavy downpour, Simmen's near-perfect run seemed to surprise the Swiss rider just as much as those watching him.
"I didn't expect anything like that," the now 24-year-old Simmen recalled. "My only goal was not to finish last, and I ended up finishing first so that's how I'll have to approach it this time around!"
Among the favourites
Simmen is well aware though that this time around he is among the favourites for gold medal glory.
"That could be a bit of a problem," he admitted. "I've won the Olympic gold once and I'm the world champion, so I might have to hide away from the media a bit and focus on my riding."
Simmen's rapid rise to fame in many ways resembles the meteoric growth in snowboarding itself. Born in the seventies and originally adopted more as a lifestyle than a form of competition, the sport made its Olympic debut in Nagano, less than 30 years after its invention.
Switzerland's first snowboarding gold medallist accepts that there have been a lot of changes in the meantime, but insists that his core principles have stayed the same.
"When I started in 1989, there was definitely a lot of partying going on and in many ways that hasn't changed," Simmen says. "But every boarder has to decide what they want from the sport, and if you want to make money out of snowboarding today you have to be more serious and party less."
"It's still very important for me to have fun, though," Simmen adds. "I think if you're not having enough fun doing something, then you should quit it. And I still love snowboarding."
by Mark Ledsom
Swiss Olympic snowboard squad
Men: Gian Simmen (halfpipe), Thierry Brunner (halfpipe), Marcel Hitz (halfpipe), Gilles Jaquet (parallel giant slalom), Ueli Kestenholz (parallel giant slalom), Philipp Shoch (parallel giant slalom), Simon Schoch (parallel giant slalom)
Women: Fabienne Reuteler (halfpipe), Nadia Livers (parallel giant slalom), Milena Meisser (parallel giant slalom), Daniela Meuli (parallel giant slalom), Steffi von Siebenthal (parallel giant slalom)
February 10, Women's halfpipe final
February 11, Men's halfpipe final
February 15, Parallel giant slalom finals