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Innsbruck 2012 Athlete Role Model: Nicola Thost (GER)
Nicola Thost is the official FIS Athlete Role Model (ARM) for Snowboarding during the Winter Youth Olympic Games in January 2012. With her example of taking fame and putting it to good use to inspire the new, young stars of tomorrow, there is no doubt that Nicola will be a fabulous role model at Innsbruck 2012. She is the winner of the first ever Olympic gold medal in the halfpipe during the Nagano Games in 1998, the holder of numerous podium finishes on the FIS World Cup circuit and now the founder of "Project Sprungbrett" (Project Springboard), an inspiring talent scouting program for young snowboarders.
On the road from Munich to the Austrian Alps, Nicola Thost provided some background on herself, such as what lead her to snowboarding and her favorite memories on the hill. "I started snowboarding in 1996 through inspiration from my older brother. I used to ski but at the time snowboarding seemed exciting as it was such a young sport. I didn't grow up in mountains, we lived in Southern Germany but my family went to the mountains a lot on holiday. By the time I was a teenager I started going to Austria to ride every weekend. Basically whenever I could have time on the hill I would make it happen. It was my main passion." And as for a perfect day on the hill, Nicola explains "a perfect day is not only one with fresh snow and a bluebird sky but being with your friends. Many snowboarders give that answer so it's also the interaction with nature and feeling on the mountain that are important."
Snowboarding became an Olympic sport the year Nicola turned professional. At the time, it went so quickly that she did not even have time to think about being an Olympic snowboarder. She did gymnastics at a younger age and dreamed of the Games in that sport. "It was my dream as a young girl in gymnastics." In Nagano when she won gold, "the competition itself felt like other competitions, everything was the same as normal, the competitors, the pipe. For me it was the medal ceremony that was the most special. It was really intense when I realized what just happened, and hearing the German national anthem was the most exciting moment."
The inspiration for her own talent scouting and rookie series for freestyle snowboarding kids out of Germany and Austria aged 6-15 years grew over a few years. Its kick-off came when Nicola had to quit her professional career due to an injury, yet she wanted to share her experiences with generations that have the potential to have a pro athlete career. In her quest to becoming an athlete, she took a route contrary to most athletes. "I never had a trainer and always followed a ‘learning by doing' motto. It taught me lessons for life and soon grew into a big passion for future athletes. I want them to believe in themselves and do what they love, take chances and believe in their dreams."
In terms of being an effective ARM, Nicola reflects on how her own experiences. "I have already interacted with kids for many seasons, and feel I already know how to give them what they need including support, advice and tips. It is important for them to have the feeling there is someone there giving them motivation and mental support so they don't have to push it and can gain experience from older athletes. At this age they are really interested in listening. I feel like an older sister to many of them, it's easy that way to connect with them so that they are not intimidated. Some of the active pro athletes that support the Sprungbrett tour are shy themselves, so I see myself as making the connection from both sides. The pro athletes of this generation are the heroes of these aspiring professionals."
Lastly, Nicola gives her insight into what she believes is the most productive way to reach out and influence our youth: "The most important thing is to spend time and listen to them so you understand what their needs are. Through sport we can experience something which evens the playing field and provides a chance to feel and hear their troubles and gain their trust. This motivation needs to be authentic with kids and this comes from sharing real time with them."
If Nicola had the opportunity to participate at a YOG in her early career, knowing what she knows now, she would be sure to enjoy the moment. She reflects on being a gymnast at the age of 15 and feeling nervous during her competitions. She found it hard to really enjoy it. So, her message is to not only give it your best but appreciate the opportunity to be part of something so big. Embrace the moment.
Concerning the future of Snowboarding, Nicola noted: "For so many years we thought snowboarding could not get any bigger or better but it is always changing and getting bigger and better. For the future, snowboarding needs the surroundings to evolve through the athletes that are participating in it." Snowboarding has potential to revolutionize other sports, for example the way it has impacted Freestyle Skiing. Snowboarding has pioneered a new vision for the ski industry by not limiting the sport with too many rules it represents a chance and leaves room for inspiration."
Nicola Thost will be attending the Youth Olympic Games in Innsbruck, Austria from January 13th until the 15th as a FIS Athlete Role Model. She is excitedly anticipating the opening ceremonies as it will be a first for her too!
Contributed by Mari Mathews
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