By Rory Carroll
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - American snowboarding phenomenon Julia Marino is not worried that her team mates will be among her most formidable rivals when she battles for gold in Pyeongchang this month as she also knows they will provide her with the most enthusiastic support.
The U.S. women's snowboarding team, which includes Sochi gold medalist Jamie Anderson and 17-year-old prodigy Hailey Langland, has a big opportunity to become the first female team to sweep a Winter Olympic podium and could even do it in two disciplines -- slopestyle and big air.
If that happens, Marino said that would be a testament to the tightly-knit team's ability to bring out the best in each another.
"Competing with those other ladies is what drives me to do well," the 20-year-old Connecticut native told Reuters this week. "When you see your friend kicking butt, you want to step up your game and do it too."
She said the fact that they were individual athletes brought together under the banner of Team USA gave them unity but also a useful autonomy.
"We are individual athletes working for an individual goal but sometimes I think we're more team-like than actual team sports because of how much we support each other," she added.
"On a team athletes may say: 'This is how we should do things' and people don't agree. But here everyone is here for the same reason, which is to have a blast," she said.
"It's really cool to see that camaraderie in snowboarding."
Marino, who only switched from skiing at the relatively advanced age of 12, has taken the snowboarding world by storm since making her professional debut and despite this being her first Olympics, she is no stranger to success.
In 2016, she became the first woman to land a cab double underflip in slopestyle competition and was a surprise winner of the World Cup big air event at Fenway Park the same year.
She followed that up by winning a gold in slopestyle and a bronze in big air at last year's Aspen X Games.
Taking a broader view, Marino hopes the success and attention devoted to female American athletes, including skiers Mikaela Shiffrin and Lindsey Vonn, and snowboard sensation Chloe Kim, sent a positive message about the strength of women in sport.
"It is really good to see women kicking butt in general," she said. "Two years ago, people were thinking we're not going to be as good as guys or that we are not the best athletes.
"Just how far we've come is insane -- with girls throwing doubles consistently in their runs and linking up difficult tricks -- is really cool for promoting women's snowboarding and women's athletic potential in general."
(Reporting by Rory Carroll; Editing by John O'Brien)