By Jack Tarrant
PYEONGCHANG (Reuters) - British boarders joined their fellow medal hopefuls on the Olympic course for the first time on Wednesday ahead of the snowboard slopestyle event at Pyeongchang 2018 later this month.
Wednesday’s training session gave the boarders their first opportunity to test out the challenging slopestyle course and already there are signs it could prove an almighty challenge.
Four years ago in Sochi, when slopestyle made its Olympic debut, the course was deemed too difficult and the jumps were modified just days before the start of the event.
Organizers are confident this time around of a more appropriate course, yet the riders coming down from the mountain at the Phoenix Snow Park were already impressed with the size and difficulty of the course features.
British snowboarder Billy Morgan, considered one of the world's most talented boarders and an athlete with a real chance of winning a rare British medal on the snow, admitted he had been losing sleep over what to expect on the Pyeongchang course.
"I get real nervous in the morning, when I wake up. If I wake up early I can’t get back to sleep because I am worried about it," Morgan told Reuters shortly after coming down from the mountain.
However, now he has seen the slope, Morgan feels reassured that he can produce his best work and improve on his sixth place finish four years ago in Sochi.
"I think riding today will actually help because I was really worried about the course being hectic and not getting on, not being able to do the tricks that I want to do on the jumps," said Morgan.
"But the jumps feel real nice and I am feeling more confident after riding today. I have figured most of it out so I feel a lot better now."
Morgan, who injured his right knee towards the end of last year but is confident it will hold up, warned of the dangers presented by the cold weather sweeping Pyeongchang this week.
"The snow can get sugary and it is not easy to ride when your body temperature drops. It makes you less free, a bit more tight, and it hard to get warmed up and get going," said Morgan.
"We had so many layers on this morning – I think I had seven layers on – and then finally it warmed up a little bit and I could take my jacket off and I felt a bit better then."
Temperatures reached -22 Celsius on the mountain on Wednesday, despite glorious sunshine.
Morgan’s compatriot Rowan Coultas was also wary of the conditions the borders will face on the course.
Coultas, who is making his Olympic debut at these games, said he had come into the games without looking at a map of the course.
"I have never seen rails so big. They are above my head, head-height,” said the 20-year-old.
"Snow-wise, yes icier is not so fun, it is hard to keep an edge when you take off and everything. And landing, you don’t really want to fall over because it sucks. It just feels like concrete. But then the speed can be there as well so it is a win-lose kind of thing."
All the snowboarders will have several other opportunities to ride the course before the first qualifying run on Saturday morning.
(Reporting by Jack Tarrant; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)