Olympic champion Williams convinced Woods will find the Beijing 2022 podium

Woods missed out on a medal at PyeongChang by just 1.4 points, but Williams is backing him to reach the podium this time
Woods missed out on a medal at PyeongChang by just 1.4 points, but Williams is backing him to reach the podium this time

Olympic champion Amy Williams is convinced Sheffield freestyle skiing star James Woods has what it takes to make a Beijing podium—but is adamant the key lies in his head rather than his feet, writes Rachel Steinberg.

Woods came agonisingly close to his first Olympic medal at PyeongChang 2018, finishing just 1.4 points out of slopestyle bronze. A year later he was world champion.

Beijing will be the 30-year-old’s third Games. This time, he’ll have two opportunities to reach the podium, with freeski big air one of seven new events added to the Olympic agenda—Woods was X Games champion in 2017.

“He’s good enough,” insisted Williams of the 2017 X Games Big Air champion. “He’s got the skill set, he’s got the knowledge, he’s got the experience.

“And so it’s just in that mind, that little one per cent. Do you wake up and you’re just too nervous that one day?

“That extra little body tension could just be enough to not land a trick. For us lying on the sled, being a bit too nervous could just send you into that extra skid that bleeds time.

“So that’s where it really comes down to, you might have every athlete that physically has got all the skills needed, but the one that holds it together mentally will be the one that pushes through.”

Woods learned to ski at Sheffield Ski Village, and won his first of five consecutive British titles from the age of 15.

And his world championship run was a milestone not just for Woods, but the country—he will forever be the first British man to win global gold on snow.

“He’s going to really try to push for those medals,” added Williams.

“He was so close four years ago. He’s the kind of athlete that you really want to [root for], like, ‘Come on, you can do this.’

“The Olympic Games can bring out a really different level of performance, whether you really up your game or whether you don’t perform because of the extra nerves and you can’t quite deal with it.

“Anything can happen at the Olympic Games, and I think that’s the great thing, of standing on that start line, at the top of a race, an ice track, or out there on that ice rink.

“You don’t quite know what’s going to happen.”

Woods is part of a 21-strong GB Snowsport contingent in Beijing. The national governing body saw their UK Sport funding more than double, from £5.2 in the PyeongChang cycle to £1.1 million for Beijing, with the aim of becoming a top-five snowsport nation by 2030.

Williams is anxious to see if those millions could lead to unprecedented success over the next few weeks.

Team GB took home a Winter Olympic team-best five medals at Sochi 2014, a number they matched in PyeongChang four years later.

Those two Games alone account for almost one third of the 32 Great Britain has won across the 98-year history of the Olympic Winter Games.

Optimistic forecasters have suggested Team GB could win as many as a record-breaking seven in Beijing, and Williams is convinced that, for an athlete like Woods, that extra investment could mean the difference between standing on a podium or just narrowly missing out—again.

“Athletes now train completely differently,” she added.

“We didn’t even have a nutritionist, we only had a psychologist for a few hours before the Olympics. Now all of that is a day-to-day, weekly normality.

“It’s an exciting thing across all sports that the advances are there for the athletes to get better and better.

“It’s just those one per cents.

“One per cents in so many different areas, that might be one-tenth of a second for you in your sport. That could be a medal or no medal.”

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