Scotty James a perfect framework for an Olympic gersey at just 15! Photo: Jake Mcbride
15 year old half pipe rider Scotty James is the youngest male Australian Winter Olympian in history and the youngest snowboard Olympian ever. An extraordinary feat in any measure.
The Melbourne teenager made history this week by dashing across the world to compete in a Canadian World Cup in order to qualify for Olympic selection, after hearing Australia’s number one ranked half pipe rider Nate Johnstone had broken his ankle and would not be competing in Vancouver.
James, who was relaxing at a friend’s farm in Victoria when he heard the news, had two days to reach Canada and record 19th place finish or better in the World Cup to earn the Olympic spot he’d thought had alluded him after his 2009/10 season results left him out of qualification.
Time was against him, but with some quick thinking and fast packing he was on a plane first thing the next morning. He had missed all the crucial practice days and arrived in Canada with time for only a few hours sleep and a quick 20 minutes of practice before the main event.
He went on to nail 15th place with a single five-hit run through the cold icy half pipe (Method, Front 7, Cab 7, front 9 and backside 540). He had done it, the dream he had all but given up on was again a reality.
James is now in Salt Lake City awaiting the return of his coach Ben Bright who is at the X-Games with his other pupil, defending gold medalist (Australia’s world champion female snowboarder), his sister Torah Bright.
Transfer caught up with the teenager via the phone from Salt Lake City. For a 15 year old, James is remarkably astute about his success and his life as a teenage international athlete. He speaks intelligently about the sport and openly about his hope that he can return to a regular school routine for a while – not the usual wish of a 15 year old.
What was the plane trip to Canada like?
Pretty long. I was actually at my friend’s farm about three hours away from home when I got a call from mum, (to say there was a possibility of qualifying for the Games) she came and picked me up and we flew out the next day. From door to door it was about 32 hours, it was pretty long.
Were you able to relax a little bit, what movies did you check out?
Yeah, luckily we had movies on the plane so the trip definitely felt a little bit shorter. I can’t really remember what movies I watched, I did watch the Castle. I remember that and Two and a Half Men, things like that.
What was going through your head on the trip?
Not much while I was flying, I was sort of thinking about when we were going to get there, what time we were going to get there. I did have my run planned out the whole way there, I new what I was going to do the whole way there.
What will standing at the top of the Olympic half pipe mean?
It’ll be pretty special because I’ve finished a goal I’ve had for the past two years and it should be a pretty good experience for me.
Scotty winning the Burton US Open Junior Jam in 2008
What do you think will be going through your mind those last seconds before you start?
I’ll be pretty nervous I’d say because there will be a lot of spectators and things like that, but I’ll probably be thinking about just planning my run and what run I’m going to do. I guess I just want to prove myself and have a good run down.
What’s your run going to be?
I’ve got no idea yet but hopefully we’ll come up with something good by then. We’re training in Park City all this week so I’ll be working on it.
I’ll definitely have a few tens, two tens, and hopefully a double flip or a double cork.
What do you think about all the double cork tricks that all the riders are doing now?
I think they’re pretty crazy but it’s good at the same time because the sport was at the same level for a few years and now it’s been pushed to a new level because of the double corks, it’s getting pretty crazy now, so it’s good.
What is it about snowboarding that you love?
I love the adrenaline, not knowing what’s going to happen when you go down and try new tricks. I do like that and it’s really fun, it’s a good thing to do just for fun as well as take seriously. I like doing it for fun and riding with my friends and family.
Do you get much time to ride with your friends and family these days?
Well I don’t really, Ben and Torah are my friends but I do train with them more seriously than just ride and have fun. But one of my friends is actually coming to the Olympics to watch me so that will be fun.
Usually every Christmas we go to Canada, our family has a house in Big White, so I get to have a fun week just riding with my brothers and sister (Tim, Shaun and Bec – 17, 19 and 21 years old) and dad and mum.
How’s training with Torah?
It’s pretty awesome training with Torah. Ben and Torah really do push me to learn new tricks and take my snowboarding a bit further than it already is, so yeah it’s definitely good training with Torah. We feed off each other and tell each other what’s best and what’s good to do and what looks good. It’s definitely good having a second opinion on what I’m doing.
There’s been a few serious injuries lately, guys like Kevin Pearce, do you get scared trying new tricks? How do you work up to them?
I like the adrenaline but it’s definitely scary to learn new tricks but I guess that’s what you have to do these days to become a professional snowboarder. But I think watching Danny Davis and Shaun White and those guys who do those tricks and have them on lockdown – it definitely helps just to watch them, watch videos of them over and over again. It helps a lot with trying it yourself the first time.
Who are you looking up to in the sport at the moment?
I’d say Danny Davis because his style is just awesome. I think he has some of the best style in snowboarding. He’s just an awesome person to look up to, he’s always doing things different like switch double back side rodeos, his style is just so different to everyone else. He’s definitely a unique person to watch.
Have you met him?
Yeah I’ve met him, he’s a pretty funny guy, he has a pretty good sense of humour, he doesn’t take it too seriously up there and he makes sure he’s still having fun while he’s being serious at the same time.
As one of the youngest do you hang out with all the older guys on the World Cup tour a lot?
I do like having out when it’s the older guys because when you hang out with the older guys you mature a lot quicker. I don’t mind hanging out with them, they’re pretty nice to me.
What is it you don’t like about training?
Getting up early, getting out of bed where it’s nice and warm, that sucks but you just have to deal with it I guess.
How about gym work, do you do that yet?
Yeah, I do gym work. I don’t mind it because I know it’s what you have to do, like working on my core so I can be strong in flips and stuff. I’ve been doing a lot of running recently
Have you found as you get older you’re more able to see the point of all the extra work?
When I was younger I didn’t like it so much because I found it boring, but I like it now because I know it’s how I can make myself better and how I can achieve my goals.
How do you do it all, the travel, school…?
It is very hard. I do distance education, I travel with all my school books and do it along the way. Usually I do it on the plane so I don’t have to do it while I’m at competitions, so I don’t have to think about anything except my snowboarding. I like to do it on the plane because it’s something to do and I like to keep up with my school work.
Will you keep doing distance education?
I’m not sure yet. I’d like to go back to school when I get back to Australia, when I’m home for a while – in between being here and going to new Zealand. Hopefully I can find a school in Melbourne I can go to.
How’s the attention been, being the youngest ever Olympic snowboarder?
It’s been pretty cool, I haven’t really ever spoken to so many people in one week about myself and my snowboarding and going to the Olympics. It’s definitely been a pretty cool experience just soaking it in. I’m just enjoying every moment of it while it lasts.
Are your family going to be there?
My mum actually got all the tickets to the event and found a house five minutes away from cypress. So my whole family – Tim, Shaun and Bec, they’re my brothers and sister, and mum and dad, the whole family will be there and my good friend from Australia and his mum will be there too, so it’ll be a good little supporting crew.
It’s your dad that’s the snowboarder?
Yeah my dad and sister snowboard. The rest of my family ski. Dad gives mum, Shaun and Tim a hard time about being skiers but I don’t think they’re going to budge, I think they like it too much to try snowboarding.
When the Games finish…
I’m not sure what my plans are for after the Olympics. I would be nice to get back to Australia but unfortunately I don’t think I’ll be able to, I think I’ll just have to stay here and train to get better. I’m going to the US Open so I want to be prepared for that.
Will you keep competing in junior comps?
No, I’ll just stay in open mens
Apart from the obvious – equipment, clothes, what will pack for Vancouver, what can you not do without?
My dad gave me a horseshoe when I started my journey for the Olympic games two years ago. It’s a little horseshoe and I always ride with it in my pocket, it something I just have in there all the time, just because I think it’s something special that he’s given me to get me here I guess.
Apart from competing, what are you most looking forward to about the Olympics?
Yeah I’m definitely looking forward to marching in the Opening Ceremony, that’s just going to be awesome, with the crowd and everything, and I’m excited about wearing a formal suit, I don’t get to do that very often.
Who’s your pick to carry the Olympic flag?
I have no idea, I think Dale Bagg-Smith maybe.
You started planning for this two years ago was it 2010 you were aiming for?
Yeah it was this Games I was focused on. It started two years ago, I found out a few months before the World Cup season started that I could be able to qualify for the 2010 Olympics and I guess we, me and Ben, sort of took it on board and saw it as a challenge and so we just began.
Me and Ben travelled and did all the World Cups together.
Where’s your favourite place you’ve been?
I like Geneva, that was pretty cool. Me and Ben spent a day in Geneva and that was pretty cool and the drive up to la Molina (Spain) where the World Cup was, was pretty cool, we got to see some really cool castles and what looked like old war barracks but probably weren’t.
And finally…did you ever compete in the Interschools?
I did actually, I competed in Interschools until I was about 12 or 13, I actually won a few of the Interschools events, snowboarding and parallel giant slalom, and nationals as well. I did do a lot of Interschools.
Thanks Scotty, good luck and have fun!
Words: Tess Cook